Warriors v Gold Coast Titans
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 1.45pm NZT (11.45am AET)
After seven rounds of the 2015 Telstra Premiership season the Warriors and Titans can't be split, sitting tied on 3-4 records with a points differential of minus three.
That suggests this clash – which will open the NRL's five-game spectacular on Anzac Day – will be a close one despite the fact that the Gold Coast haven't beaten the Warriors in five years.
Coach Andrew McFadden has made a statement by dropping boom centre Konrad Hurrell following a spate of errors over the past few weeks, with David Fusitu'a the direct replacement.
Veteran prop Sam Rapira returns while back-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner comes in to make his debut and become Warrior number 200.
For the visitors the loss of Dave Taylor to suspension is a major one, but is offset to some degree by the return of captain Nate Myles in an otherwise settled line-up.
The New Zealand side blew the chance to record a valuable away win against the Cowboys last week, with errors yet again their downfall.
The Titans on the other hand were boosted by a second consecutive 30-plus point victory last Saturday at home to the Panthers.
Watch out Warriors: Ruck defence cost the Warriors dearly last week, as the Cowboys destroyed them from the play the ball on numerous occasions. Three tries from North Queensland hooker Jake Granville, plus 76 metres and two line breaks, sums up just how bad the Warriors were in that area of the contest. They can ill-afford a repeat against a Titans side with talented forwards and livewire rake Kierran Moseley coming off the bench.
Ball control is another area of improvement. The New Zealanders dropped the ball at the start and end of their sets, and even dropped it once over the line to blow a certain try. Sixteen errors in total saw the Warriors retain their mantle as the NRL's most error-ridden side, and ensured that all their effort in North Queensland ultimately went to waste.
Watch out Titans: They left the stadium with the two points against the Panthers, but the Gold Coast struggled to control the ball and completed at only 74 per cent last weekend. On top of that they missed 30 of their 328 tackles and allowed their opponents to offload on 19 occasions.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden sounded an ominous warning to his troops this week by unceremoniously dropping Konrad Hurrell due to poor form. Fear factor should encourage the Warriors to be much improved in their ball control and execution this week, and coupled with the return of Rapira and Fusitu'a it should mean a tough day at the office for the Gold Coast.
Key Match-Up: Solomone Kata v William Zillman. In his new home in the centres Zillman was arguably the best Titan on the park last week, running for a huge 269 metres with a line break and two tries to boot. Kata was almost as good in a beaten side against the Cowboys, scoring a try, breaking the line three times and carrying the ball on 10 occasions for 120 metres.
The History: Played 16; Warriors 10, Titans 6. The Warriors are shooting for a ninth-straight victory over the Titans this weekend, having won every head-to-head clash against the Gold Coast since September 2010. Auckland has never been a happy hunting ground for the Titans either, with only two wins out of seven visits in total.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet punters have identified the Titans as great value in betting and they've invested six times the money on the visitors. In terms of first try scorers Manu Vatuvei has been the most popular option, followed by Titans flyer James Roberts. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Did You Know: The Titans will become the first club other than the Storm to play the Warriors on Anzac Day since 2008. Coincidently the Gold Coast were the last outfit to face the Warriors prior to their six-year tradition of clashing with Melbourne on April 25, winning that game 36-24 in their inaugural 2007 season.
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Morris. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: David Ryan and Anthony Elliot. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Sky Sport – Live from 1.30pm NZT.
The Way We See It: These teams probably couldn't feel more different about their respective performances last week; the Gold Coast no doubt buoyed by a big win at home and the Warriors demoralised after being run down late at one of their toughest away venues. But the Titans don't like visiting Auckland, or playing the Warriors in general, and sadly for them they will confront both of those things come Saturday. The Warriors to bounce back in style and win by 14.