Titans v Tigers preview

Gold Coast Titans v Wests Tigers
Skilled Park
Saturday 7.30pm

It might not go down as the game of the round, but there’s plenty for both the Titans and Wests Tigers to play for in their Saturday night clash on the Gold Coast.

Both teams will be desperate to claim the victory and two competition points as both line-ups are currently struggling and positioned well outside the top eight.

The Titans, after just two wins this season, are second last on the table. In recent weeks their form has, as you’d expect, been inconsistent – they beat Manly away in Round 7, but backed up that performance with a 20-point loss to the Broncos last week.

The Tigers, meanwhile, have also had a disappointing start to 2012. With many experts having them the competition favourites entering the season, Tim Sheens and his players wouldn’t be happy with their 3-5 start to the year which has them in 11th position. The past fortnight, though, they’ve stayed in the winners’ circle – they smashed the Panthers 30-0 at Penrith in Round 7 before jumping out to a huge lead against the Eels and eventually winning a thriller 31-30.

The Titans have been weakened following the arm injury to captain and halfback Scott Prince. Scans have confirmed Prince has suffered a small tear to the brachialis muscle in his elbow joint. Titans coach John Cartwright has named former Sydney Roosters and Canberra backline utility Phil Graham at fullback in a reshuffled line-up. The loss of Prince for this weekend sees William Zillman shift to five-eighth and 20-year-old playmaker Aidan Sezer move to halfback, with Graham promoted to fullback in his first game for the Titans since joining the club in the off-season. Forward Ashley Harrison also returns to the Titans’ line-up after a one-match suspension.

For the Tigers, interchange forward Matt Groat has been replaced by Junior Moors. Groat suffered a knee injury in the win over Parramatta Stadium last Sunday. He joins a host of Tigers forwards on the sidelines, including Chris Heighington and Gareth Ellis.

Watch Out Titans: The Tigers are starting to purr – and their attack is at the fore. In the past two weeks Wests Tigers have scored 30 points or more, a sign they might be finally clicking into gear. Combine that recent form with the fact the Titans have the worst kicks-defused rate in the competition (just 57 per cent) and there’s a likelihood the Tigers will be scoring plenty of points in this one. The Gold Coast defence had best be ready.

Danger Sign: Livewire five-eighth Benji Marshall is the key to the Wests Tigers’ attack. In the past two weeks he’s orchestrated six tries, and has eight line-break assists to his name for 2012. The Titans will need to wrap up Marshall each time he gets the ball… and keep a close eye on his ball-runners, too. If the Gold Coast put Benji on lockdown, their chances of winning increase significantly.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: The Titans have an air of unpredictability about them now, following the loss of injured halfback Prince. The No.7 has played all of the Gold Coast’s matches this season… and as always has been their attacking linchpin. How will the Titans direct their attack without Princey? Who will be the Gold Coast’s go-to man in the opposition’s 20-metre zone? Time will tell, and there’ll need to be some guesswork from the Tigers defenders. That could well work in the Titans’ favour.

Danger Sign: The Titans, without their key playmaking star and most experienced player, enter this match as underdogs. But, as recent history shows us, that status won’t worry John Cartwright and his players. In Round 1 they upset the Cowboys in Townsville, and two weeks ago they defeated the Sea Eagles at Brookvale. The Titans will be quite happy if the Tigers are talked up in the lead-up to this clash.

Phil Graham v Tim Moltzen: They mightn’t embroil themselves in the kicking duels of days gone by but the modern-day No.1s still have a big bearing on match results, and they will in this clash. Journeyman utility back Phil Graham returns to the NRL for the Titans, named to make his first NRL appearance for the Gold Coast after stints with the Roosters and Canberra. Moltzen, the Tigers’ No.1, mightn’t have the experience of 145-gamer Graham, but he is a talent in his own right. Last season Moltzen played all 26 games for his team – scoring eight tries and making 12 line-breaks in the process.

Where It Will Be Won: Ball-handling and completed sets. Last start against the Broncos, the Titans capitulated in the first half, making seven errors and completing just 63 per cent of their sets to gift the Broncos a 20-0 lead at the break. In the second half their completion rate improved – jumping to 74 per cent – but by then it was too late. Exactly the opposite can be said of the Tigers’ last-start effort against the Eels. In the first half Tim Sheens’ men performed to plan, leading at the break 19-0 following a half that featuring just four errors and an 87 per cent completion rate. In the second half, as the Eels came surging back from 31-0 down to see a final scoreline of 31-30, the Tigers were scrappy, conceding eight errors and completing just 63 per cent of their sets. “Hold onto the ball, complete the sets, then look to score,” will be the message from both coaches. Whichever team does it better will win.

The History: Played 9, Gold Coast 5, Wests Tigers 4. The Titans enjoy playing the Tigers… especially on the Coast. At Skilled Park the Tigers have won just once, losing three times.

Last Time They Met: It was a Benji Marshall masterclass in Round 25, 2011, when the star five-eighth led the Tigers to a 39-10 win against the Titans. Marshall produced a five-star performance against the Gold Coast at Campbelltown, scoring a try and having a hand in four others just days after being cleared of an assault charge.

Missed tackles cruelled the visitors’ chances – they missed a whopping 52 attempts – and they also struggled with their completions, registering 63 per cent to the Tigers’ 75 per cent.

The Tigers ran their opposition ragged, registering a season-high 11 line-breaks and dominating territory 1597 metres to 1087 metres. Marshall made 187 metres by himself, as well as four line-breaks, while young prop Aaron Woods pounded out 166 metres.

For the Gold Coast, Preston Campbell tried hard (10 tackle-breaks) while Greg Bird added 108 metres with 40 tackles.

Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid and Peter Gough; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.

The Way We See It: The Titans have nothing to lose in this game – all the pressure is on the Wests Tigers who, with a victory, could make it three in a row. Benji Marshall’s Tigers should be too strong here… even if Skilled Park isn’t their favourite ‘away’ ground. Scott Prince’s injury is a big blow to the home side. Wests Tigers by 12.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats