Titans v Broncos preview

Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos
Skilled Park
Friday 7.35pm

After passing one do-or-die test with flying colours last week, the Gold Coast face a much sterner one this time around when they line up against the might of the Brisbane Broncos.

The Titans are one of a number of clubs – along with the Warriors, Dragons, Knights and Raiders – still in contention for a finals berth in hot pursuit of eighth-placed Wests Tigers following last week’s 38-26 demolition of Canberra.

But with just seven rounds remaining and four points separating them from that eighth spot they can ill-afford a slip-up now.

Queensland derbies are always intriguing and Friday night’s clash is no different. Having started 2012 sluggishly – perhaps a confidence hangover following their disastrous 2011 – the Titans have gradually rebuilt their season and will face Brisbane confident of springing an upset.

Certainly they boast the talent to do so. Despite the absence of NSW forward Greg Bird through injury, the Titans welcomed back Luke Bailey and Nate Myles last week and their forward pack is the equal of any in the competition.

They will also be pleased with the continued improvement of young five-eighth Aidan Sezer who has dramatically eased the pressure on captain Scott Prince, while fullback William Zillman enjoyed arguably his finest game in Titans colours last week – making five line-breaks, scoring two tries and running for 240 metres. In doing so he became just the third player in the past decade to produce five line-breaks in a single game (alongside Jamie Lyon in 2003 and Brent Webb in 2006).

Still, as the Warriors found out last Friday, it’s not easy to get on top of this Brisbane outfit.

Having enjoyed a welcome bye in Round 18, they began their run home to the finals by downing the Warriors 10-8 in a thriller and can now look ahead without the distractions of the representative season getting in the way.

In fact, although Canterbury is indisputably the hottest side in the NRL right now, it’s fair to say that the Broncos have been the most consistent in 2012. They currently sit two points behind Melbourne and Canterbury on the ladder and the motivation to move into the top two will remain a strong incentive over the coming weeks.

In Gold Coast team changes lock Ashley Harrison makes his return from the toe injury that saw him miss the State of Origin decider, while speedster David Mead is also back after attending his father’s funeral in Papua New Guinea last week. His presence sees Steve Michaels move into the centres with Luke O’Dwyer dropping back to the bench.

Giant forward Ryan James is also part of an extended bench, with Ben Ridge out due to a pec muscle injury.

Lachlan Maranta comes back into the Brisbane outfit on the wing, replacing Dale Copley who fractured his leg against the Warriors last week. Copley will be sidelined for the next month.

Broncos forward Corey Parker celebrates his 250th game this week. Since making his debut in 2001 he has notched 3310 runs for 24,711 metres, 7532 tackles and 52 line-breaks. He also needs just 62 more points to become the third Bronco to score 1000 career points.

Watch Out Titans: The Gold Coast’s back three can expect a working over. No side enjoys putting the ball high off the boot more than Brisbane – and that includes both the standard attacking bomb and the cross-field kick for their wingers. The Broncos have put up 61 bombs in 2012 and 53 cross-field bombs. The Titans have also proven to be susceptible to the cross-field kick, having defused just 13 of 30 this season at a meager 43 per cent.  

Danger Sign: The main goal of the Titans this weekend must be to prevent Brisbane enjoying quality field position, because if they let them set up camp near the try-line they will be in trouble. Brisbane is the best side in the Telstra Premiership at scoring from close range, having done so 42 times in 2012 (between 0-10 metres). Likewise, they have scored just three tries from beyond halfway, so keeping them at distance is the Titans’ best option.

Watch Out Broncos: The return of veteran prop Luke Bailey from a rib injury last weekend proved timely for the Gold Coast and he quickly settled back into his role, running for 169 metres from 21 runs in the win over the Raiders. His front row partnership with Luke Douglas will be a factor up against the powerful Brisbane forwards.

Danger Sign: While most sides favour attacking on one particular side of the field, the Gold Coast are much harder to read and pose threats across the board. So far this season they have scored 21 tries on their left edge and 18 on their right (where bulldozing Jamal Idris has returned to in recent weeks). They have also crossed 14 times up the middle, so the Broncos will need to be wary right across the park.

Aidan Sezer v Corey Norman: Opposing young guns Aidan Sezer and Corey Norman go head to head this week in a battle that will go a long way to deciding the outcome. Sezer has proved to be a tremendous recruit for the Titans this season, producing six try assists, five line-break assists and 18 tackle-breaks in his 11 appearances. Meanwhile, Norman has been a standout for Brisbane. Called in to replace the great Darren Lockyer in the No.6 jersey, he has played all 17 games – showing tremendous maturity in helping the Broncos maintain their status as one of the NRL’s top teams.

Where It Will Be Won: Dominating in the tackle will be crucial here – especially for the Gold Coast who must work overtime to reduce the opportunities Brisbane have to attack close to the try-line. If they win the tackle and ultimately earn time to both kick to the corners and pressure the Broncos kickers, they will go a long way towards causing the upset.

The History: Played 12; Broncos 9, Titans 3. Brisbane has dominated this contest in recent times, having won the last six meetings dating back to 2009. They hold a narrow 3-2 record at Skilled Park.

The Last Time They Met: A dominant first-half display inspired by young five-eighth Corey Norman saw Brisbane power to an impressive 26-6 win at Suncorp Stadium back in Round 8.

Norman had a hand in three Broncos tries as he proved himself a worthy successor to the great Darren Lockyer; however it was Alex Glenn who got the ball rolling when he picked up the scraps of a Peter Wallace bomb in the 11th minute before dashing over next to the posts. Norman then threw a superb short ball for Glenn to crash over for his second and it was soon 16-0 as Andrew McCullough darted over from dummy-half.

Poor ball-handling didn’t help the Titans’ cause as they surrendered 62 per cent of the first half possession to their opponents, with Brisbane surging to a 20-0 lead at half-time following a swift backline move that sent Gerard Beale over in the corner.

The Titans finally responded shortly after the break with a well-worked try of their own for Dominique Peyroux to crash over; however Norman would have the last say with a stunning piece of play that saw him toe ahead a Glenn pass, kick again off the ground then tap the ball back inside for Josh Hoffman to race away and score between the sticks.

The Titans made 14 errors and were forced to make an extra 88 tackles than their opponents, with winger David Mead one of their better performers on his way to 148 metres and five tackle-breaks.

Corey Parker worked tirelessly for the home side with 155 metres from 23 runs and 35 tackles.

Match Officials: Referees –  Jared Maxwell & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Chris Butler; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.

The Way We See It: The Titans have the talent to upset Brisbane here but the fact is that they are yet to prove that they can maintain the level of performance they showed against Canberra last Sunday from week to week. Brisbane, on the other hand, have been models of consistency this season and it is no fluke that they sit in third spot on the NRL ladder. We see them taking home another two points here.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats