Gold Coast Titans v Sydney Roosters
Just four rounds into the 2012 season and it is already approaching do or die for the struggling Gold Coast. An 18-0 shut-out of North Queensland in Round 1 was a promising start for John Cartwright’s men but four losses on the trot since has them on very shaky ground. And despite the coach’s protestations that they are playing better rugby league than their 15th spot on the ladder suggests, they need to turn that potential into competition points this weekend.
That said, there certainly were some encouraging signs against the high-flying Bulldogs last Sunday. The Titans led 10-0 early and although Canterbury fought back to take an 18-14 half-time lead, the home side never gave up – regaining the lead early in the second half before fading late. There were also season-best performances from a number of their forwards as well as captain Scott Prince who set up two first-half tries.
The key for the Titans will be putting together that 80-minute performance they’ve been looking for because the Roosters have proven this season that they will show no mercy if given half a sniff.
It’s fair to say that the Roosters were one side that few knew exactly what to make of before the season kicked off given their considerable player turnover and the lack of any particularly significant arrivals. To a certain extent they remain an unknown quantity given their topsy-turvy form: wins over South Sydney, Canberra and the Warriors have been split by particularly poor showings against Penrith and Melbourne.
However, their 26-8 defeat of the Warriors last weekend was their most complete performance of the season and with three wins from five they can solidify their strong start with a fourth win against the Gold Coast this Saturday.
Perhaps their most impressive asset in 2012 has been their ability to overcome adversity. In Round 1 they lost captain Braith Anasta before kick-off and trailed 20-12 with two minutes remaining before scoring two late tries to steal a stunning win; in Round 3 they were far from their best but managed to grind out a 14-8 win against Canberra; and last week they overcame the news that Anasta was headed to Wests Tigers in 2013 to overwhelm the Warriors.
It’s a mixed bag for the Titans this week with the return of Jamal Idris and David Mead tempered by the loss of five-eighth Greg Bird (ankle) and hooker Kayne Lawton (hamstring) following that defeat to the Bulldogs.
Bird’s No.6 jersey will be filled by Jordan Rankin, but it is wider out that the Titans will be hoping for more joy: having all missed games through injury in 2012, this will be the first time that Idris, Mead, Beau Champion and Kevin Gordon have played together. Idris has been named on an extended bench. Luke O’Dwyer will play his 100th NRL game.
Roosters coach Brian Smith has named the same 17 that downed the Warriors last week with Boyd Cordner starting in the back row and Brad Takairangi on the bench.
Watch Out Titans: Evergreen Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello is playing as well as ever this season, with his kick-returns devastating and support play causing all sorts of headaches for opposing sides. It was Minichiello that was on hand to haul in Boyd Cordner’s last-play kick to defeat Souths in Round 1 and he killed off the Warriors with a late try last week as well. He currently ranks third in the NRL in 2012 for both total metres gained and kick-return metres, so it is crucial that the Titans cut down his time running the ball back.
Danger Sign: The Titans must dominate in the tackle and prevent the Roosters from producing second-phase play, because so far this season the boys from Bondi have been the most dangerous side in the competition when it comes to keeping the football alive. The Roosters lead the league for offloads in 2012 with 69, and six of their line-break assists have come from them (equal first). They’ve also scored two tries directly from offloads. Keep an eye on Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Mitchell Pearce who have produced 10 offloads apiece.
Watch Out Roosters: If speed was the name of the game then the Titans would already have one foot in the grand final. Still, there is no doubt that the Gold Coast’s sheer pace out wide will pose plenty of questions to the Roosters’ defence.
It is important to note that left winger Kevin Gordon played just two games last season due to injury, while fellow speedster David Mead has played just twice so far in 2012. This week’s clash will be the first time the lightning-quick duo has played together since Round 2 last year.
Danger Sign: The Roosters must be wary of the Gold Coast’s short kicking game which is a prominent feature of their attack. In fact, when it comes to short kicks in play, no side has produced as many as the Titans, with eight successful short kicks (ie. staying in the field of play) for a gain of 185 metres. Their 22 grubbers is also the most by any side except Wests Tigers. Keep an eye on Scott Prince’s right boot whenever the Titans find themselves between the 10- and 20-metre lines on the last tackle.
Scott Prince v Mitchell Pearce: Two of the NRL’s top halfbacks go head to head with their team’s destinies firmly in their hands. Prince produced his best performance of the season against the Bulldogs last week with two try assists, including a brilliant cut-out pass for Kevin Gordon to score in the left corner in the first half. Pearce, meanwhile, has taken on greater responsibility since the departure of his former halves partner Todd Carney and it is crucial that he gets his kicking game right. Notably, the Roosters have made fewer kick metres than any other side this season with just 461 per game.
Where It Will Be Won: Up front. Scoring tries has been a problem for both of these sides in 2012, with just 11 each, so they will be hoping their forwards can provide them with enough space to end the drought. Look out for some big performances by the big men: Luke Bailey has been in fine form this season with an average 109 metres per game while Nate Myles will be fired up for a huge game against his former club. Roosters prop Martin Kennedy ran for 191 metres last week.
The History: Played 8; Titans 5, Roosters 3. The Titans have enjoyed an edge over the Roosters since they joined the competition in 2007 although honours are split at 2-2 in the past four clashes. The Titans have won two of their three clashes at Skilled Park.
The Last Time They Met: The Titans prevailed 24-13 in Round 8 last year thanks to two late tries in front of a good Skilled Park crowd of 15,177.
With both sides struggling on the ladder and in desperate need of a win, it was a dour first half that saw them head to the sheds locked at 6-all following tries to Joseph Leilua and Steve Michaels.
It was tight for much of the second, too. Despite William Zillman slicing through to make it 12-6 just two minutes into the second half, scores were soon level again when Frank-Paul Nuuausala stormed across to set up a nail-biting finish.
Mitchell Pearce looked to give the Roosters the edge with 13 minutes remaining when he drilled home a field-goal from close range but it was the Titans that finished over the top with David Mead racing away to give them an 18-13 lead in the 73rd minute before Zillman scored his second from 35 metres to seal victory.
Significantly, the Titans made 328 tackles to the Roosters’ 253, with Luke Bailey’s contribution of 140 metres and 43 tackles a standout.
Nate Myles ran for 174 metres and Joseph Leilua made eight tackle-breaks for the visitors.
Match Officials: Referees – Brett Suttor & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Michael Wise; Video Referee – Pat Reynolds.
The Way We See It: The return of a number of strike players for the Titans and their much-improved showing against the Bulldogs suggests that a win might not be too far off for the embattled club, while the Roosters have demonstrated a never-say-die attitude this year and are always tough to beat. We expect a close one… but could we even be looking at another golden point thriller? Don’t count it out. We’ll sit with the Titans by one point.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm.