Gold Coast Titans v Canterbury Bulldogs
Sunday 2pm (Qld time)
It is probably a fraction too early to be referring to games as season-defining, but if ever the Gold Coast needed a win it is this weekend against the Bulldogs.
After an opening round upset of highly fancied North Queensland, the Titans have now lost three in a row and are in danger of falling right off the pace should they go down again on Sunday.
Apparently that’s of no great concern to coach John Cartwright, who insisted following last week’s 26-6 loss to the Warriors that his side was doing too much right to keep losing games. And there can be little doubt that they have the right personnel – three of the Titans’ six starting forwards have played State of Origin, while a halves pairing of Greg Bird and Scott Prince is one many clubs would kill for.
Yet the fact remains that they need to start winning games sooner rather than later.
That won’t be easy against Des Hasler’s Bulldogs who will no doubt be fired up following their poor showing against Newcastle last weekend, even if they will be without injured halfback Trent Hodkinson.
Canterbury is a vastly improved side this year and, like all Hasler-coached teams of the past, they base their football around discipline and teamwork. The former Manly mentor has done a wonderful job of bringing the best out of his players in 2012 – a fact evidenced by the improved defensive work of fullback Ben Barba and the return to form of centre Josh Morris who fell out of favour under former coach Kevin Moore around this time last year.
Their efforts have played a huge role in sparking the Bulldogs’ attack this season and they certainly boast an edge over the Gold Coast when it comes to scoring points: their 16 tries from four matches is more than double that of the Titans (7).
That’s the key for the Gold Coast – figuring out how to turn their attacking potential into actual points. While the absence of big-name signing Jamal Idris over the past fortnight hasn’t helped, they nevertheless boast speed to burn out wide in the form of Steve Michaels and William Zillman and really should be more effective with the ball in hand.
The other problem for the players right now will be overcoming the off-field dramas that are engulfing the club, with evidence of mounting debt and question marks over the long-term sustainability of the Titans in their current form. It’s a lot for them to handle… but then nothing brings the crowds back like a winning footy team.
Beau Champion and Jordan Rankin both return from injury this week after missing the loss to the Warriors, although The Titans will be without Scott Prince and Matt White with bicep and elbow injuries respectively. Rankin slots into Prince’s No.7 jersey with Champion returning to the centres in place of Bodene Thompson who drops back to the bench.
Kris Keating will make his first appearance for Canterbury in 2012 in place of injured halfback Trent Hodkinson.
The Titans have good reason to want to score a few points – not since 1993 has a Gold Coast side been held to single figures in three consecutive weeks.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Greg Bird poses a huge threat with the ball in hand given his solid start to the season. A fine running five-eighth, he tops the Titans list for average metres gained (138), broken tackles (15) and offloads (6) so far in 2012.
Danger Sign: The Titans should direct plenty of traffic at five-eighth Josh Reynolds this week given the youngster tops the missed tackle list for Canterbury. Reynolds has missed 23 tackles so far in 2012, with an effective tackle percentage of just 78.4. Only Warriors five-eighth James Maloney has missed more tackles this season (with 26).
Watch Out Titans: The Bulldogs are lethal on their left edge with nine of their 15 tries in 2012 scored on that side of the field. The impressive form of Josh Morris, who has scored four tries, is a huge factor in this, while back-rower Frank Pritchard has also proved destructive on Morris’ inside.
Pritchard will be hoping his hot form against the Titans continues. In four games against them he has scored six tries, made 21 tackle-breaks, six line-breaks, two line-break assists and a try assist.
Danger Sign: The Titans are the worst-performed team in the NRL when it comes to defending kicks, with just 16 of 30 kicks defused in 2012 at 53 per cent. And they are particularly susceptible to the high ball. This season they have defused just six of nine ‘normal’ bombs, one of seven cross-field bombs and none of two mid-field bombs.
Luke Bailey v Aiden Tolman: The heavyweight battle up front between veteran Luke Bailey and tireless Bulldogs Aiden Tolman promises to be decisive. Bailey has been the Titans’ most consistent forward in 2012 averaging 105 metres per game while Tolman is averaging 117 metres and 29 tackles for the visitors.
Where It Will Be Won: The Titans boast a forward pack to rival any in the competition, but can they turn that go-forward into points? And how will the Bulldogs cope without chief playmaker Trent Hodkinson? Much of this will come down to how the rival halves pairings perform. No doubt both sides will earn attacking opportunities so it will be their execution inside their opponents’ 20-metre zone that will determine their success.
The History: Played 7; Bulldogs 4, Titans 3. There has been little between these sides in recent years – in fact, the Titans’ biggest ever win over Canterbury was by just eight points when they prevailed 20-12 in 2009.
The Last Time They Met: The Bulldogs scored a commanding 28-6 win at Suncorp Stadium in Round 12 last year in a match where very little went right for the Gold Coast side.
The signs were bad early on when Canterbury back-rower Frank Pritchard stormed his way across the line twice in the first seven minutes for a 12-0 lead before the Titans embarked on a string of near misses. They included Preston Campbell failing to ground a Scott Prince grubber, Mark Minichiello dropping the ball over the line, four players being held up over the line, Michael Henderson being called back for an obstruction and Greg Bird being denied for a knock-on in the lead-up.
In the meantime, Canterbury piled on the points with two Steve Turner penalty goals giving them a 16-0 half-time lead. The winger added to his tally shortly after the break when he touched down out wide.
A Josh Morris try with 11 minutes remaining sealed the deal before the Gold Coast finally troubled the scoreboard in the 75th minute when Matt Srama broke through to send Scott Prince across.
The completion rates told the story, with the Bulldogs completing 82 per cent of their sets compared to 60 per cent from the Gold Coast.
Canterbury forwards Andrew Ryan and Michael Hodgson impressed with 121 and 125 metres respectively and 33 tackles apiece, while the Titans were well served by winger David Mead who ran for 154 metres.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Peter Gough; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.
The Way We See It: The Bulldogs were disappointing last weekend against Newcastle after a tremendous start to the season and it’s unlikely they will settle for something similar two weeks in a row.
The Titans, meanwhile, are still a work in progress and off-field distractions surrounding the club’s finances can’t be helping. They have plenty of potential and with their roster should probably be doing a little better, but until they prove themselves by winning more games it is hard put too much faith in them just yet. The Bulldogs should get home here; we tip a margin of eight points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.