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Warriors v Titans
Mt Smart Stadium
Friday 8.30pm (NZ Time)

Ummmmm… has anyone around here seen the Warriors? No, not the imposter version that has lost four in a row… the other one – the team most thought would be pushing for a top-four berth rather than the current unit struggling to stay in tough with the top eight.

The ‘good’ Warriors side has been in hibernation for more than a month and now they have lost their coach to the Panthers next season… will we ever see them back to their best?

If they want to play finals football in 2011 the resurgence better start now because if they fall to the last-placed Titans it’s going to be a much harder battle to climb back.

The home side have fallen to ninth on the ladder and although refreshed from the bye last week they have been poor in losses to the Roosters, Wests Tigers, Cowboys and Storm in recent times.

They will be sweating on the ability of prop Jacob Lillyman to back up after the Origin decider.

Halfback Brett Seymour’s cruel run with injury continues; he is out, replaced by Shaun Johnson.

In a plus, Kevin Locke returns at fullback, pushing Lance Hohaia to the bench while Feleti Mateo grabs back his starting spot in the second row at the expense of Steve Rapira who hits the pine.

Micheal Luck also returns to the side at lock, pushing Elijah Taylor to the bench, with Sione Lousi and Alehana Mara missing out.

The Titans are also fresh off the bye but haven’t tasted much success lately either. They have lost their past two including getting mauled by the Sharks on the Gold Coast in their last match.

They need to win just about every game left this season to have a chance at finals… at least you can still dream Titans fans.

Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison will need to get through Origin to line up in Auckland.

In a boost, Luke Bailey returns at prop, allowing Mark Minichiello to return to the second row with Bird slated to inject off the bench.

Ben Ridge is out of the side with Bodene Thompson and Luke O’Dwyer coming onto an extended bench.

Former Warrior Clinton Toopi is set to play his 150th NRL game.

Watch Out Warriors: You’d be hard pressed to find a prouder player in the NRL than Luke Bailey and after a few weeks off due to injury and a bye you can be sure ‘Bull’ will be champing at the bit to get out and bust some heads… legally of course.

Bailey is a no-nonsense prop who could easily have been donning sky Blue for this year’s Origin series had he not retired from the rep scene. The veteran is averaging 131 metres each game and more than 31 tackles. He is still tackling at an impressive 91.7 per cent effectiveness despite his size. Seeing his side at the foot of the ladder is like a red rag to this bull.

Danger Sign: While he doesn’t produce it often the Warriors should be wary of the odd offload from Bailey. As a junior he was a skilled back and still has a bit of ball-playing blood left in him. The Warriors need to also watch Toopi who will be up for a blinder against his former club, as well as Anthony Laffranchi who has scored in five of his past seven matches against the Warriors.

Watch Out Titans: A kicking barrage is coming. In a season of reshuffles the Titans now have young Jordan Rankin at fullback and it will be the signal for the Warriors to delve into their kicking arsenal.

The Titans have leaked the most tries from the boot in the NRL with 17 so far this year – that’s more than one a game. The Warriors have scored 11 from kicks, the seventh most.

Danger Sign: Watch for the Warriors to send plenty of kicks to Manu Vatuvei’s wing as well. The mountain of a man has put up some amazing numbers against the Titans. He has contributed eight of 32 tries – that’s one quarter! All except one of those have come from the past five times he’s played against them and he averages more runs (14) against the Gold Coast than any other team.

Plays To Watch: Matt Srama having a dart from close; Laffranchi hitting hard lines close to the Warriors’ tryline; Mateo’s offloads, Hohaia’s speed injection from the bench lifting the match tempo.

Where It Will Be Won: Completions. The Titans haven’t been able to get into the grind of matches this year and their time has run out so you can expect they’ll throw a little caution to the wind. This could be the catalyst to a win but only if they maintain a fair share of possession. They will have to cut down errors and make the passes stick.

For the Warriors it will be about not falling into the Titans’ trap. If they open up with a Feleti Mateo-style offload-every-chance-you-get attitude they will be giving the Titans a shot. If they instead knuckle down early, make the most of Titans mistakes and camp in good field position, then they should be well on their way to victory.

Once in the green zone Mateo and co can attack at will. But they must be boring before breathtaking.

The History: Played 9; Warriors 3, Titans 9. The Warriors pounded the Titans 34-14 earlier this season on the Gold Coast stopping the Titans’ six-game winning streak against them. There have been three previous matches at Mt Smart Stadium with the Titans ahead 2-1. The Titans enjoy a better winning percentage over the Warriors than any other opponent (67 per cent). Against all opponents the Warriors have won 12 of 15 recent night home games while the past four games at the venue have been decided by single figures.

Conclusion: The Warriors haven’t won in an age and we are yet to really see how coach Cleary’s decision to jump ship next year has affected them – but they still are heavily favoured to take care of the Titans.

There is no concrete reason to suspect an upset here… but stranger things have happened.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Adam Devcich; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Pat Reynolds.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 7.30pm (Qld); Delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.