Gold Coast Titans v Canterbury Bulldogs
Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 14 June 4pm
Two sides moving up the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder will head into battle without their Origin stars when the Titans host the Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon.
The Titans put the Daly Cherry-Evans saga behind them by snapping a three-game losing streak with a heart-palpitating 27-20 win over the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval last weekend, while the Bulldogs buried the Dragons 29-16 to record their second win in a row.
Those Round 13 victories saw both sides jump two places up the ladder with the Bulldogs moving into seventh place and the Titans 11th.
Interestingly enough if the Titans win by an unlikely 20 points or more on Sunday they'll leapfrog the Bulldogs on for-and-against on the ladder, although they’ll have to do it without young gun halfback Kane Elgey who faces a month out with a syndesmosis (ankle) strain.
Daniel Mortimer will take his place with Kierran Moseley shifting to hooker and Matt Robinson coming onto the bench. Eddy Pettybourne starts in place of Origin prop Nate Myles and Matt White makes the interchange bench alongside Mark Ioane, with Dave Taylor dropped to Intrust Super Cup.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has been forced into a string of changes; with Brett and Josh Morris named for New South Wales, Sam Perrett shifts to fullback with Corey Thompson and Chase Stanley coming into the team on the wing and in the centres respectively.
Trent Hodkinson's Origin call-up sees Josh Reynolds partner Moses Mbye in the halves, while Greg Eastwood moves to the back row for Josh Jackson and Lloyd Perrett comes in at lock.
James Graham's hamstring injury sees Sam Kasiano start and David Klemmer's absence due to Origin means Antonio Kaufusi, Danny Fualalo, Herman Ese'ese, Tyrone Phillips and Jacob Loko come onto an extended bench.
Watch out Titans: Former Cowboys flyer Curtis Rona earned a Round 1 call-up by Des Hasler and hasn't looked back since. Rona leads the NRL in tries scored and line breaks with 13 each and has scored the first Bulldogs' try in six matches so far this season.
The 23-year-old Kiwi has 19 tries from as many NRL games and will be lining up opposite Anthony Don who has 11 tries this season. Expect plenty of Bulldogs' ball to be directed towards Rona's left wing position during the early stages of the Cbus Super Stadium showdown.
Watch out Bulldogs: Similar to Rona, the Titans right-side pairing of speedster James Roberts and clinical finisher Anthony Don have been in scintillating form this season, especially over the past two weeks.
Together they have five tries, seven line breaks and 15 tackle busts in the past fortnight from games against the Rabbitohs and Tigers. They've scored 22 of the Titans' 43 tries this season ensuring Bulldogs left-edge pair of Rona and Chase Stanley will receive a thorough defensive examination.
Key Match-Up: The halves. Gold Coast lose the seven try assists and six line-break assists that Kane Elgey has crafted from his nine NRL games so far this season, increasing the pressure on Aidan Sezer and the out of sorts Daniel Mortimer.
Sezer also brings seven try assists to the table and a dominant kicking game the Bulldogs will need to be wary of, but he can't do it on his own against Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye. You know you're playing well as a halves combination when your coach benches his NSW halfback for the vibrant pairing of Reynold and Mbye.
And that's exactly what happened in the final 20 minutes against the Dragons when Reynolds came on, although much of the credit should be directed towards Mbye. The 21-year-old Queenslander was heavily involved in the win over the Dragons and sealed the result with a 74th-minute field goal.
The History: Played 11; Titans 6, Bulldogs 5. The Titans have won the last three clashes against the Dogs dating back to 2012. Four out of the past five games played at Robina have been decided by 10 points or less with the Titans winning three of those including one-point victories in 2010 and Round 26 last season.
Did You Know: Canterbury's Tim Browne will face the Titans for the first time in his 47-game career after debuting in Round 5, 2010. Originally on Manly's books before moving to Belmore, the prop failed to crack first grade in the two seasons following his debut before finally reviving his NRL career at the beginning of 2013. The 27-year-old is contracted with the club until next year.
What Are The Odds: Titans $2.15 v Bulldogs $1.70. The Bulldogs have drifted since opening as $1.58 favourites according to Sportsbet. There’s plenty of money for a Titans upset at home, but punters feel 1-12 is the best bet for the Titans. Look for Anthony Don, James Roberts or Curtis Rona in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: David Ryan and Kasey Badger. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine – 4pm (Live – QLD & NSW).
The Way We See It: The halves battle will be crucial in who decides the game, but if the forwards can't churn out the metres then the playmakers will struggle. The Doggies lose 190 games of NRL experience without forwards Josh Jackson, David Klemmer and injured skipper James Graham.
Another 465 games of experience disappear with the loss of the Morris twins and Trent Hodkinson, further playing into the Titans' hands. The last time the Bulldogs played without their Origin and Test stars they beat the Raiders 41-34 at Canberra in Round 11, so they have the runs on the board in that respect.
It what could shape as a very entertaining affair, we'll back the Bulldogs by two points in another Sunday afternoon classic.