Bulldogs v Titans
This game means plenty. The Bulldogs are chasing a top-four spot. They are in fifth place on 26 points, from 11 wins and eight losses, and are three points behind both the third and fourth-placed teams – the Sea Eagles and Storm. The Titans are chasing a place in the bottom half of the top eight. They are in ninth place on 22 points, from nine wins and 10 losses, and are just one point behind the eighth-placed Knights.
The Bulldogs won a wacky game against the Dragons on Monday. It was a windy night and the effect was similar to how kids in the school playground react on a windy day – crazy things were happening. Passes to the opposition, or to no-one, kick-offs either allowed to bounce or put out on the full, and lots and lots of action. The Dragons led 20-8 entering the final 30 minutes, but the Bulldogs ended up winning 39-20. And deservedly so in the end. Even when they were down by 12 points, the Bulldogs looked capable of still winning easily. It was that sort of game.
The best thing about the win for the Bulldogs was the performance they got out of their big men. Sam Kasiano, James Graham, Frank Pritchard and Tony Williams all got in on the metre-eating action, and in the end the Dragons were overwhelmed. The thing about that quartet of players is that they each have skill as well, so it's not just about trying to tackle them. It's about trying to stop them from carving you up with their offloads as well.
The Bulldogs have won three in a row. The Titans had lost four in a row, leaving their season at death's door, before they recovered to a degree with a 36-6 win over the Tigers last weekend. But the Tigers were in disarray, with injuries and Benji Marshall seemingly distracted and out of form, and they did not provide much opposition. The Titans know it is going to be a much harder test against the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs have named Sam Perrett at fullback, Josh Morris centre and Krisnan Inu wing, but that doesn't mean they will play in those positions. It was Morris fullback, Inu centre and Perrett wing against the Dragons. Tony Williams is up from the bench to start in the second row, with Josh Jackson dropping to the bench. Tim Bowne is added to what is a five-man bench.
The Titans are unchanged, apart from Luke Douglas rising from the bench to start and Ryan James dropping to the interchange.
Watch Out Bulldogs: The Titans can't hope to win this one unless they get big performances from their representative stars in the forwards – Greg Bird and Nate Myles. And chances are they will aim up, because they do most weeks and they are big-game players in the extreme. Bird ran for 144 metres and made one offload in his 67 minutes against the Tigers. Myles ran for 126 metres and made two offloads in his 52 minutes. They'll be ready to rumble again.
Watch Out Titans: Bulldogs halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson have become very good at playing off the back of that forward roll Kasiano and the others create. They move quickly when the defence is forced on to the back foot, and they know when to pass and when to run. Hodkinson produced a man-of-the-match performance against the Dragons, and Reynolds produced four offloads. The Titans can't afford to let them run free.
Plays To Watch: Kasiano made two line-breaks and two offloads against the Dragons. Williams had two and one. You have to shut these guys down, but when Kasiano is 138kg and Williams is so big and strong, it's a lot easier said than done.
David Mead, normally a winger, may only be filling in for the injured William Zillman at fullback for the Titans, but he had a ball against the Tigers, running for 161 metres and making three line-breaks and scoring a try. Coming off the back of a game like that, he's bound to run the ball with a lot of confidence here.
Key Match-Up: Who's got the power? The props have. It's a thunderous line-up on either side of halfway here – Graham and Aiden Tolman starting for the Bulldogs, with Kasiano coming off the bench, against Myles and Douglas starting for the Titans, and James from the bench. Those guys are all high-quality players who are going to hurt each other as they try to build a platform for their team. Thank God we only have to watch.
Where It Will Be Won: The Titans cleaned up their act in defence against the Tigers. They needed to, after missing a whopping 51 tackles in their 32-4 loss to the Rabbitohs the week before. But the Bulldogs will test them like the Rabbitohs did, so the pressure is on the Titans to come with real attitude in defence or pay a heavy price as they see offload after offload find support players who then take off downfield.
The History: Played 9; Bulldogs 5, Titans 4. The Bulldogs have won two of the past three clashes.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Luke Phillips; Sideline Officials – Nick Beashel & Chris Sutton; Video referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Bulldogs v Titans clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 7pm.
The Way We See It: It's in games like this that the Titans look likely to pay for being without Zillman, Idris and Albert Kelly. The Bulldogs remain without Ben Barba, but they've still got too many attacking weapons for the Titans to handle. Eventually, it will get too hard for the Titans to cover all of the bases, and the Bulldogs will pull away in the second half. Bulldogs by 14 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.