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Bulldogs v Titans
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 8.45pm

The second match of what should be an awesome double header at Suncorp Stadium is crucial to both sides as they try to negotiate the Origin period.

The ‘home’ side Bulldogs have slipped to eighth on the NRL ladder after losses to Brisbane, the Dragons and Raiders in successive weeks, while the Titans’ struggles remain, seeing them languish in 14th spot.

John Cartwright can hear the clock ticking – he knows time is running out for the Gold Coast to make their move back up the ladder. They are two wins short of the Bulldogs and have a negative differential, something they need to rectify, and fast.

They are coming off the bye week and back-to-back losses prior to the rest.

Titans Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison will be hoping to back up from Origin, while the Bulldogs will be sweating on Michael Ennis’ fitness.

Bodene Thompson comes in at centre for Joseph Tomane in the only change from their heartbreaking loss to Manly in Round 10.

The Bulldogs will be missing the injured Aiden Tolman at prop but have responded by moving captain Andrew Ryan up front.

With Ennis due back at hooker, Josh Reynolds returns to the New South Wales Cup competition, while Sam Kasiano is slated to start at prop, with Greg Eastwood moving back to the bench.

Jake Foster is the new starting second-rower, with Michael Hodgson joining the reserves list.

Watch Out Bulldogs: The Titans might not be the most efficient attacking side in 2011 but they do prefer heading left, which has been a real weak spot for the Bulldogs.

Despite his attacking prowess (see below) Jamal Idris still has plenty to learn in defence. Teams attacking to the left come straight at the Bulldogs’ right-side defence, where Idris resides. The fact opposition teams have scored 19 tries on the left against the ’Dogs compared to 10 on the right is probably the biggest reason why Idris was handed the No.18 jersey for the Blues and left to watch from the sidelines, rather than making the starting line-up. The dreadlocks-wearing giant has missed 21 tackles so far, or just over two a game.

The Titans have scored 12 tries on the left side, nine on the right so chances are they’ll keep hitting their strength, and the Bulldogs’ weakness.

Danger Sign: The Titans hit the short side left more than any other team in the NRL and if they continue this trend it could certainly upset the ’Dogs defensively. Watch for Scott Prince to shape right but switch back down the short left corridor, really trying to work over Idris and co.

Watch Out Titans: He isn’t in the Gold Coast jersey yet but this game represents the first time Bulldogs centre Idris will play against the club he will join from next year. Fresh off New South Wales 18th man duties, Idris will be out to prove just how damaging he can be. So far this season he has averaged 79 metres, has three line-breaks, two line-break assists, three try assists and four tries. He also has 54 tackle-breaks (fifth most in NRL) and 15 offloads.

Idris has played the Titans three times in the past and managed three line-breaks, two tries and 21 tackle-breaks. He also averages 110 metres in those three games, his second best yield against any opponent.

Danger Sign: Idris will be lurking on the right side looking for early ball. He is just as dangerous hitting a flat line and powering through defenders as he is getting a nice outball at depth, allowing him to get up a full head of steam. The Titans need to get up in his face quickly and get physical with the big centre – before he gets physical with them. They have already leaked 11 tries this year to right-fringe attack. Plus, their centres pairing of Bodene Thompson and Esi Tonga have missed 45 tackles between them, making the region in from touch a real worry on both sides of the field.

Plays To Watch: Scott Prince grubbers for edge forwards and a flying William Zillman; Michael Ennis scheming around rucks trying to catch out Titan props; Frank Pritchard’s offloads; Preston Campbell injecting himself at second receiver.

Where It Will Be Won: Field position. The side which gains abundant, good position will get the competition points, as both sides boast halves who are skilled to take advantage.

Earlier in the year the Bulldogs were able to overcome a severe deficiency in metres gained compared to opponents and still win – but in recent weeks their lack of go-forward and inability to stop other teams rolling forward has hurt them.

The Bulldogs average 1288 metres running a game – well in the bottom half of teams – while the Titans are pumping out 1336 metres each week. The big difference comes defensively where the Titans concede just 1275 metres while the Bulldogs are letting teams dominate on their way to 1434 metres. The side that gives themselves more chances is going to be in great position to take full advantage.

Scott Prince is at his best when taking on the line from close range. The same can be said for the ’Dogs, who have some strike backs who are hard to stop from close range and offloading forwards like Frank Pritchard who can create enough space to make a half-break and result in points.

The History: Played 6; Bulldogs 3, Titans 3. These sides met here in similar circumstances last season, with the Titans getting home in a one-point thriller 25-24. The win means the Titans have won three of the past four against the Bulldogs. The average winning margin in the past four games is just four points. The two sides have met at Suncorp Stadium twice, sharing the victories, although the Titans don’t necessarily love the short trip north – they have won just two of nine matches played at the venue against all opponents.

Conclusion: It is always hard to tip games before knowing which Origin players will be returning to the fold. For instance, the Bulldogs without Ennis are a much weaker proposition. And the Titans without half their back row would also struggle.

That said, even if everyone comes through it is still a really tough one to pick, as both units are experiencing a slide. The Titans will probably have more crowd support but the Bulldogs should still have the slight edge.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Tony De Las Heras; Touch Judges – Ricky MacFarlane & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Russell Smith.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 8.45pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.