Titans v Raiders preview

Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders
Skilled Park
Saturday 5.30pm (AEDT)

This game could be the most entertaining of the round – two creative and dynamic backlines coming face to face outside ferocious forward packs that won’t take a backward step. This promises to be a cracker!

There’s plenty for Titans and Raiders fans to be excited about for season 2012 after strong Round 1 displays. Gold Coast overcame the heat and humidity in Townsville to record an emphatic 18-0 win over the Cowboys. Theirs was a performance of the ‘one-percenters’ – a true team effort where everyone rolled up their sleeves. And can you believe it – the victory sees a Gold Coast team lead the competition for only the fifth time in league history, while the current squad and the 2010 Roosters are the only wooden spooners in the past 40 years to top the table after the first round of the following season.

The Raiders on the other hand finished their match on the wrong side of the scoreboard against the Storm in Canberra… but there were certainly many positives for the coach and fans to take out of the effort. In abysmal conditions, the Raiders implemented an effective game plan that had one of the competition’s heavyweights on the ropes with just minutes to go. Only a fortuitous late ‘Hail Mary’ play from Melbourne won them the match – otherwise the Raiders, on the back on some clever short passing and kicking, would’ve sprung the upset.

This match-up is one both Titans and Raiders fans will be expecting to win – both teams have claims.

Gold Coast coach John Cartwright has named an unchanged line-up following his side’s underdog victory against the Cowboys.

For the Raiders, winger Reece Robinson is out for a month after sustaining a fractured cheekbone late in his side’s loss to the Storm, with rookie Jake Wighton (selection pending a Toyota Cup judiciary hearing) named to make his first grade debut. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs is also out, with the Indigenous All Stars representative re-injuring his troublesome foot. He will sit out a week, with experienced hardman Trevor Thurling taking his place.

Watch Out Titans: Josh Dugan is hitting the ground running in 2012, and the Gold Coast will do well to slow him down. The recently re-signed fullback, now on the Raiders’ books until at least the end of 2014, ran rampant against the Storm, recording a mammoth 257 metres – the league benchmark by more than 50 long strides. If the Titans expect to keep the Raiders scoreless (as they did the Cowboys), they’d better keep close tabs on Dugan. Expect the Titans’ kickers to direct most traffic to the wing of rookie Wighton – well away from Dugan and the similarly dangerous speedster Blake Ferguson.

Danger Sign: Terry Campese is back in business. After a long lay-off with knee and groin injuries, ‘Campo’ is nearing full fitness… and with it, so is his confidence. It’s no secret the former NSW Blue is the linchpin of the Raiders’ attack – with him on the park the Raiders can beat any team. Fans only need turn their attention back to the 2008 and 2009 seasons to remember Campese’s influence – seasons when he registered a total of 249 points, 18 line-breaks, 39 line-break assists and 51 try assists. Sure, he might’ve been a little on the quiet side in Round 1, but quiet two games in a row? Don’t count on it.

Watch Out Raiders: The Titans of 2012 look much different to that team anchored to the bottom of the competition table last season. Against the much-fancied Cowboys, Gold Coast delivered as close to a clinical display as possible in the sapping, humid conditions. The Titans dominated all the major categories, including in defence which has been a problem area in the past. John Cartwright would’ve been particularly pleased with conceding just 11 errors, one line-break and 1080 metres. There’s no greater sign of the Titans’ concerted collective effort than their first-up forwards rushes – Greg Bird (22), Nate Myles (19) and Luke Bailey (19) all making big numbers of hit-ups.

Danger Sign: Barnstorming Titans centre Jamal Idris looked unstoppable last week. The big-name recruit looked a fitter, faster and hungrier version of his former self – something opposition centres will no doubt fear. Last week he made four tackle-breaks, one line-break and scored two tries to frank a special first-up performance for his new club. The fact he only ran nine times for 46 metres says it all – when he goes looking for the ball and gets more possession, he’ll be even more damaging. Expect coach Cartwright to have said those exact words to him during the week. Watch out Raiders!

Scott Prince v Josh McCrone: The Titans’ attacking go-to man v the Raiders’ offensive foil. This key match-up has the potential to swing the match in either team’s favour. After a poor 2011 season, Prince is especially determined to give his side the direction it needs… and last week he showed glimpses that he might still have ‘it’. The Gold Coast No.7 decided to take on the line, much to his coach’s pleasure, running 11 times to rip open the Cowboys’ defence once and also set up a try. For McCrone, last week gave an insight into how he can perform inside a star playmaker like Campese. Against the Storm, the Raiders halfback judged the conditions well, using short passes and kicks to keep his opponents on the back foot. McCrone scored a try and set up another. The halfback duel – how the No.7s use the room their forwards create – will go a long way to determining this match.

Where It Will Be Won: The teams’ attacking kicking games will prove the difference. Expect the Titans to look to follow the Storm’s lead and exploit the gap behind the Raiders’ defensive line on the third, fourth and fifth tackles. Last week Storm half Cooper Cronk used the chip kick regularly, to great effect (Raiders fullback Dugan stands very deep in defence). In fact it led to the try that turned the match. Gold Coast will place plenty of pressure on the Raiders’ replacement winger Wighton – expect him under a barrage of bombs at some stage. The Raiders, however, also look to the high ball for advantage – Blake Ferguson is particularly adept at taking a ‘screamer’ to score a try. Whichever team implements better short- and medium-length kicking games will have a huge advantage.

The History: Played 11; Titans 6; Raiders 4; drawn 1. The Titans have the upper hand against the Raiders… especially on the Gold Coast. At Skilled Park, the Raiders haven’t won in four attempts.

The Last Time They Met: These teams met twice in 2011, with surprisingly the spoon-‘winning’ Titans getting the points on both occasions. In Round 4, the Titans came from behind in the dying minutes to win an absolute thriller in golden-point extra time. Twenty rounds later, the Titans asserted their dominance once again, prevailing 26-18 despite a late comeback from the Raiders.

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyon, Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood, Peter Gough; Video Referee – Steve Clark.

The Way We See It: The Titans, at home, have the wood over the Raiders and it’s difficult to see Canberra springing an upset, especially considering they have only managed to score 44 points at the venue in four appearances. That said, the Titans are backing up after an exhausting, energy-sapping performance in the heat and humidity in Townsville. Compare that to the Raiders’ wet and miserable outing against the Storm, and the teams’ differing preparations are sure to have an influence. Expect the Titans to win on the back of their slightly superior forward pack and their home fans… but don’t put your house on it. Titans by three points.

Televised: Live, Fox Sports – 5.30pm (AEDT).