Bulldogs v Titans preview

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 8.45pm

Des Hasler’s Bulldogs will be out to inflict more pain on John Cartwright’s fragile Titans in the second match of the double-header in Brisbane after the blue-and-whites halted their worrying three-game losing streak with blockbusting victory the Eels last week.

The Bulldogs regained their bite to annihilate Parramatta 46-12 and catapult to fifth on the premiership ladder. But it was the manner of their victory that will send shivers down the spine of their opponents in the lead-up to this week’s clash: eight tries, seven line-breaks, a whopping 21 offloads and just 10 missed tackles.

Meanwhile the Titans showed enormous heart against the Wests Tigers last week and really should have left Skilled Park with the two competition points. Unfortunately their young five-eighth Jordan Ranking learned a hard lesson in the value of composure, with two late errors providing ‘sliding doors’ moments that the opposition pounced on to snatch a 15-14 golden-point win.

Ironically, the Titans were the Bulldogs most recent scalp prior to their win over Parramatta last week: Canterbury secured a 30-20 win following a see-sawing battle on the Gold Coast in Round 5 (see below).

Canterbury coach Hasler has retained the 17 who so dazzled last week, adding Martin Taupau to form a five-man interchange.

In Titans personnel changes, William Zillman returns at fullback, with Phil Graham reverting to the interchange which numbers five players at this stage. In a curious selection, John Cartwright has named Adam Sezer in the No.6 this week, with Jordan Rankin set to feed the scrums. Whether that tweak is enough to spark monumental change, who knows?

Meanwhile it’s a milestone week for Bodene Thompson who suits up for his 50th NRL game.

Watch Out Bulldogs: Greg Bird continues to be the stand-out in a battling Titans squad. The NSW Blues Origin hopeful scored a try and made two offloads when these teams last met and his overall 2012 stats are strong. He leads his side for average runs (16) and metres gained (125), as well as tackle busts (27) and offloads (nine).

Jordan Rankin gets the chance to put last week’s disappointment behind him up against a favourable foe. Although Rankin will be making his maiden NRL appearance against Canterbury, the rookie faced the Bulldogs three times in the Toyota Cup for three tries and two wins.

For all their brilliance the Bulldogs have been guilty of reacting slowly to their errors, with oppositions punishing twice with tries from turnovers. The Titans have scored one try from a turnover already.

Danger Sign: Canterbury fans will feel nervous any time the Titans put boot to ball in an attacking position. The ’Dogs have conceded six tries to kicks so far, including two last week. They’re especially vulnerable to cross-field bombs, with their wingers defusing the high ball just 46 per cent of the time.   

Watch Out Titans: The Bulldogs are at their most lethal between 20 metres and 50 metres out from the opposition try line. In fact they are the only team to score more tries in this zone than from within 10 metres of the stripe – the strongest region of the 15 other NRL teams. To date the ’Dogs have crossed for 14 tries which have originated between their 20-metre line and halfway – including a whopping five last week! By comparison they have scored just nine tries from 10 metres out. Emphasising their threat from long range, they’ve tallied seven tries from over halfway – with three added against the Eels. You read correct: all eight Bulldogs tries against the Eels came from longer than 20 metres out. Mind-boggling stuff.

Also, second phase in the middle of the park from forwards Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano and Corey Payne will need to be contained: the trio have combined for 37 offloads, with front-rower Kasiano leading the way with 16 (four last week). They hurt the Titans last time with a combined seven offloads.

Danger Sign: When Ben Barba is allowed to get into full gallop points are never far away. The elusive No.1 leads all-comers for tackle-breaks (58) and ranks third for line-breaks (eight). In their Round 5 win he scored a try, made a game-high five tackle-breaks, contributed 159 metres and set up a four-pointer for Josh Morris. He was the difference between the Titans winning and losing. He could be again.

Luke Bailey v Sam Kasiano: A battle of two of the best ball-playing front-rowers running around. Bailey still has the skills that made him a Blues regular earlier in his career, with seven offloads to go with his 14 hit-ups and 109 metres a game. He toils hard in defence too, averaging 27 tackles. Meanwhile Kasiano’s name is on everyone’s lips given his sensational runs (103 metres a game), offloads and line-break assists (five). Expect both players to provide a pivotal moment.

Where It Will Be Won: Making the most of opportunities. When they last met on April 1 the Titans made more territory during the afternoon (1335 metres to 1252 metres) – but the Bulldogs packed more punch in attack, making five clean line-breaks to the Titans’ two. The Titans must find a way of stopping Ben Barba and co. from breaching their defensive line or else they’ll struggle. To date they concede the fifth-most line-breaks each week (4.6) while the Bulldogs average almost five line-breaks a game. That’s a sum that adds up to disaster.

The History: Played 8; Bulldogs 5, Titans 3. The Bulldogs have won three of the past four clashes between the sides and have won two of the three games contested at Suncorp Stadium. They recorded a resounding 28-6 win in last year’s corresponding double-header clash.

The Last Time They Met: The Bulldogs emerged 30-20 winners at Skilled Park in Round 5 this year – but had to secure victory the hard way after a spirited early showing from the home side.

Greg Bird opened the scoring in just the fourth minute when he latched onto a Steve Michaels bat-back of a Scott Prince cross-field bomb. The Titans stretched their lead to 10 points at the 14-minute mark when Brenton Lawrence streaked away for a 50-metre solo try against the run of play following a Michael Ennis dropped ball.

Ben Barba got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard supporting Frank Pritchard in the 24th minute before the Titans responded immediately, Scott Prince throwing a lovely 20-metre cut-out pass for his winger Kevin Gordon who touched down for a 14-6 Titans lead.

The ’Dogs struck back with successive tries to Josh Reynolds and Josh Morris, with Reynolds strolling over after being felled by Luke Bailey but not being held, and Morris supporting a Ben Barba break down the left flank. That saw the visitors head to halftime with an 18-14 lead.

The Titans edged ahead again thanks to Nate Myles’ barge from close range in the 50th minute but then the Bulldogs closed out the contest with snappy tries to Frank Pritchard (from a simple run-around) and then Steve Turner (65th minute).

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Chris Butler; Video Referee – Pat Reynolds.

The Way We See It: After last week’s thrashing of Parramatta and given the Titans’ continuing battle to score points (their 13 a game are the fewest by any side) it’s hard to envisage anything other than a comfortable Bulldogs win. Canterbury by 12 points.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 8.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 12.30am Saturday.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats