Titans v Sharks preview
Gold Coast Titans v Cronulla Sharks
Cbus Super Stadium
Two clubs fighting to free themselves of the demons of the past enter this game in the bottom four of the premiership but within reach of the top eight.
Both had overcome slow starts to the season with three-game winning streaks but the Sharks now enter this game on the back of two straight losses while the Titans' bubble burst in spectacular fashion with a 40-point thumping by the Raiders in Canberra.
It's the first time in four years that the Sharks have been spotted on the Gold Coast with their only victory in four previous visits coming in their last start in 2011 when Paul Gallen scored twice in a decisive 36-12 win.
Titans coach Neil Henry has given the 17 who went down to the Raiders a chance to make amends by naming an unchanged line-up with back-rower Ben Ridge close to a return after playing for Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup last weekend.
Rookie Titans halfback Kane Elgey was struck down by a stomach bug early in the week but is expected to take his place in the side while hooker Beau Falloon remains out with a shoulder injury and is looking at a return after the club's Round 11 bye.
The Sharks are without Anthony Tupou who suffered a terrible broken jaw against the Warriors last week with David Fifita returning from a fractured leg to take his place on the bench. After missing the Round 9 loss to the Warriors Michael Gordon also returns on the wing in place of Mitch Brown.
In such a congested competition one loss won't spell the end of your season but with the Origin period looming large this is a must-win game for both teams as they endeavour to keep pace with the top eight.
Watch Out Titans: For a team that got over-powered through the middle of the field last start the prospect of a rampaging Andrew Fifita with one week to prove he is Origin ready is perhaps as scary as it gets for the Titans. The Titans missed 41 tackles in their 56-16 hiding at the hands of the Raiders while Fifita broke through five attempts from Warriors defenders in scoring what looked like the match-winner before Shaun Johnson conjured a miracle. Fifita's 31 tackle busts are the equal highest of any forward in 2015 and he is in the top 10 for average running metres. A handful, to say the least.
Watch Out Sharks: In a team that was badly beaten Josh Hoffman shone like the lone beacon of light, racking up impressive numbers against the rampant Raiders. Averaging a tick over 100 metres in the previous eight games, Hoffman made more than 170 metres against Canberra and an astonishing 10 tackle breaks, taking his season tally to 29. Defensively he is outstanding whether at fullback or centre and his growing influence in attack is integral to the Titans' fortunes.
Key Match-Up: Dave Taylor v Wade Graham. An eyebrow or two may be raised if they were to be selected but there's no question these two damaging edge back-rowers are on the State of Origin radars of both Queensland and New South Wales respectively. Taylor would need to deliver something extraordinary to maintain his Maroons incumbency while Graham's aggressive yet skilful traits would appear purpose-built for the Origin arena. As two strong runners who both love an offload, there will be plenty happening on their side of the field.
History: Played 12; Titans 6; Sharks 6. Along with Penrith, Parramatta and Canterbury, the Sharks are the team the Titans have played the least number of times since entering the competition in 2007 but they get their second crack at Cronulla this year. Cronulla have not played on the Gold Coast since Round 16, 2011 where they recorded a 36-12 win over the home side. In the past five meetings between these teams the largest winning margin was 10 points when the Sharks triumphed 22-12 in Round 14, 2012.
Did You Know: Other than his former club the Panthers, the Titans are the only team in the NRL which Sharks back-rower Luke Lewis is yet to score a try against. Although he has a 4-3 winning record from his seven starts against the Titans, Lewis has never managed to cross the stripe. Interestingly, Lewis's best hauls have come against the two other Queensland teams with 14 tries in 17 games against the Broncos and 11 from 19 against the Cowboys.
What Are The Odds: Titans $1.68, Sharks $2.20. The Sharks have been surprisingly well backed to win this one 13+ according to Sportsbet. They've also been very popular with the start at the line. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich; Assistant Referee: David Munro; Touch Judges: Adam Reid and Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Steve Clark and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm
The Way We See It: Two very different but equally heart-breaking defeats provide a good test of the intestinal fortitude of two teams whose position on the ladder is not indicative of the quality of football they have delivered in 2015. The power of the Sharks through the middle of the ruck and the smarts of Michael Ennis will be an excellent test of the Titans defensively, with the Gold Coast having relied on second-half comebacks in racking up three of their four wins this season. There might be just enough points in the home side to squeeze home in this one. Titans by four points.