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Titans v Raiders
Skilled Park
Sunday, 1pm (Qld)

Desperate times have not arrived just yet, but there’s little doubt both the Gold Coast and Canberra are very much aware of the importance of victory in this clash on Sunday. 

The Titans and Raiders, both winless in Round 1, struggled early in 2012 and, despite late-season rallies, finished well short of their ultimate goal of claiming the title. This season both teams are looking to improve on this worrying early season statistic (Gold Coast won just two of their opening nine matches while the Raiders won three in the same period) – and it all starts for one of them in this clash.

Last week the Titans suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of the emotionally charged Cronulla Sharks in front of their home fans in the Shire. There were several promising signs for coach John Cartwright and his troops, however, with new halves pairing Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly, as well as impact forward David Taylor, all displaying the potential for a brighter and more successful season on the Gold Coast.

The Raiders, meanwhile, were the biggest disappointments of the first round of the 2013 season, with last year’s surprise packets thumped 32-10 by the Panthers in Penrith. For Canberra, they struggled across the park with the team dominated in a number of statistical categories including completion rate, metres gained, missed tackles and errors.

The Titans remain unchanged from the team that suffered defeat against the Sharks last Sunday. The Raiders, meanwhile, are without star outside backs Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson after the pair were stood down indefinitely by club officials for breaching a number of team policies. This has forced several changes to the Raiders’ line-up, with Reece Robinson returning from a back injury to replace Dugan at fullback. Jack Wighton will shift from the wing into the centres to replace Ferguson, with Edrick Lee coming onto the wing after being 18th man last weekend against the Panthers. The only other change for Canberra comes on the bench, with Brett White returning to the Raiders 17 this weekend after playing for feeder club Mounties last Saturday. 

Watch Out Titans: Gold Coast were far from awful in their 12-10 defeat in Cronulla but the fact they had to rely on kicks for both of their tries is a concern for Cartwright. So too is the fact their ‘spine’ is still gelling following the departure of mainstay playmaker Scott Prince, and the arrival of journeyman Kelly. 

The Titans averaged only 18.7 points per game last season (equal 11th in the NRL) under the reign of Prince, too – Carty will be demanding a dominant display from his attacking guns, or there’ll be another poor start to the season to ponder. 

The signs are positive, though – last week the Titans cracked the Sharks on three occasions, conceding just one line-break in the process.

Watch Out Raiders: The Panthers dominated field position – and metres gained – last weekend against David Furner’s men. The Raiders ran for just 1042 metres, compared to the Panthers’ 1462… and the Titans pose a tougher task with an even-more-powerful forward pack featuring the likes of Nate Myles (105 metres against Cronulla), Greg Bird (150 metres), Ryan James (107 metres) and Daye Taylor (106 metres). For Canberra to prove a chance in this one, it’s up to their forward pack – think the likes of David Shillington, Dane Tilse, Josh Papalii and Joel Thompson – to stop their opponents and lead their teammates’ charge downfield.

Plays To Watch: Josh McCrone scheming and sliding right across-field, looking for runners; Dave Taylor smashing up the fringes and threatening to run, pass or kick; Josh Papalii, now confirmed as a Raider for 2014 and beyond, asserting himself in physical fashion with and without the ball in centre-field and on the edges; Albert Kelly zigging and zagging up, down and across the field, assessing his opponents and searching for gaps to exploit.

Key Match-Up: The great unknowns against the most under-rated playmaking pair of 2012 – welcome to the battle of the Titans and Raiders halves. It’s bound to be entertaining, with both combinations likely to back themselves and throw caution to the wind in this one. 

John Cartwright told last week his new halves pairing is much more “off the cuff” this year following the inclusion of livewire No.7 Kelly, and that’ll no doubt prove a giant question mark for opposition teams. How do you solve a problem when you don’t know the question? That’s Albert Kelly in a nutshell – and the dilemma his opponents will face in 2013. Alongside Aidan Sezer – one of the most exciting young playmakers to make his mark on the NRL last season – could the Titans have a duo capable of taking the team to the finals? 

One playmaking pair that did just that for their lowly rated team in 2012, following yet another injury to Terry Campese, was Raiders halves combination Sam Williams and Josh McCrone. ‘Campo’ is due back in the coming weeks though, so these two are no doubt extra keen to build their bond and enjoy the experience. (That experience, for one of them at least, could be about to end soon, though.) 

Whichever halves pairing gets the one-up in this clash could, quite literally, be signing themselves a winning bonus for this game – and the stability of a job in their jersey of choice for the remainder of 2013.

Where It Will Be Won: ‘Leading from the front’ comes no more literal than the jobs co-captains Bird (Titans) and Shillington (Raiders) need to do for their teams. 

With exciting – albeit inexperienced – backlines, this game will be won or lost by the captains. Whoever gets his forward pack more motivated and more determined to get the job done will prove the winner. Lead the way, skip.

The History: Played 12; Titans 7, Raiders 5. The Gold Coast have a significant advantage at Skilled Park, winning four of their five matches.

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Michael Wise & Jason Walsh; Video Referees: Chris Ward & Neil Wharton.

Televised: Live – Fox Sports 1, 2pm (1pm Qld).

The Way We See It: It’s too tough for the Raiders to overcome the losses of Dugan and Ferguson – as well as a bitterly disappointing performance against the Panthers – and still be ‘up’ for this clash against a rejuvenated and remodelled Titans side on the Gold Coast. The Titans will prove too big, too strong and too focused. Gold Coast by 14 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats 
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