Gold Coast Titans v Manly Sea Eagles
Cbus Super Stadium
Deceptive Contract Experience.
Didn't Come 'Ere.
Despised Commander of Eagles.
Whichever acronym you like to use for Daly Cherry-Evans, there is no question that 'DCE' is in for a frosty reception in the Sunshine State when he faces up to the team he left at the contract altar with a backflip that garnered more media attention than Nadia Comaneci in her Olympic prime.
Hailed as the saviour of rugby league on the Gold Coast when his signature was announced a day into the season, Cherry-Evans turned his back on the Titans to sign a 'lifetime contract' with his current club, leaving the Titans still scrambling to find an established playmaker for the 2016 season and beyond.
It will incite Titans fans to up the volume of their vitriol but on the park both of these teams have bigger problems at hand.
A loss on Monday night for either team will encourage the mathematicians to start coming forward to debate their finals hopes with the Titans currently two wins outside the top eight and the Sea Eagles six points adrift.
The Titans welcome back Ryan James and Kevin Gordon after the bye but are still without halves Aidan Sezer and Kane Elgey and the hooking stocks remain depleted with Beau Falloon, Kierran Moseley and Matt Srama all still sidelined.
The Manly side is starting to look more and more like the team that has been so dominant over the past decade with the addition of Justin Horo to a five-man bench the only change from the team that defeated the Sharks at Brookvale last Sunday.
Watch Out Titans: An inquisitive brown snake may have caused a ruckus at Cbus Super Stadium last year but it is a 'Snake' of a different kind that may prove deadly to the Titans' finals aspirations. In a team that has struggled to step up from the bottom of the ladder this season Brett Stewart has remained a shining light. His two try assists against the Sharks last week took his season tally to five to go with the 10 tries he has scored in 13 games. But if that isn't scary enough consider this: Brett Stewart has scored nine tries in eight games against the Titans, with Manly winning seven of those games. The only game in which he didn't score a try, the Sea Eagles lost.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Should he return from Origin duties with Queensland in one relatively intact piece, Nate Myles will have two of three forms of motivation on which to call on. He will be either on a high after a Maroons series win, or be desperate to atone for a crushing defeat, and there are more than a dozen blokes on the other side who he will be calling teammates in less than six months' time. Averaging more than 100 metres and a tick under 36 tackles per game, Myles is the starch in the middle that holds the Gold Coast team together when errors threaten to tear them apart. He would love to break a Titans try-scoring drought that stretches back to Round 20, 2012 but it's getting through him at the other end that will be Manly's biggest challenge.
Key Match-Up: James Roberts v Steve Matai. I may have failed physics in high school but I learnt enough to know that if James Roberts at top speed runs into Steve Matai's shoulder at its most immovable, something spectacular is bound to ensue. In an endeavour to get him more involved – and with a horrendous injury crisis amongst their playmakers – Titans coach Neil Henry moved Roberts in closer to the action last start against the Roosters but that won't be happening again. 'Jimmy the Jet' is a man who needs space while Matai loves nothing more than shutting it down. Matai himself has seven tries from 11 games this season so don't for a moment think this is purely a match-up of attack versus defence; this is a clash between two centres at the peak of their powers.
History: Played 13; Titans 5; Sea Eagles 8. It took the Titans four goes before they could get the better of the Sea Eagles with a late Scott Prince penalty goal seeing them home 18-17 at Robina in 2009. Manly won a scrappy affair 15-12 in their most recent visit to the Gold Coast last year and have won four from seven games at Robina.
What Are The Odds: Titans ($2.85) v Sea Eagles ($1.43). Sportsbet punters think Manly are back – there has been five times the volume of money on the Sea Eagles in head-to-head betting and they've been extremely well backed to win by 13-plus. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges: Clayton Sharpe and Chris Butler; Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm
How We See It: Where the Titans rely on offloads to break up an opposition defensive line, the Sea Eagles tend more towards a mistake-free format and trust that the class in their halves and outside backs will get the job done. Ranked equal fifth for their completion rate and with an average of just five errors a game, if the Sea Eagles can keep their top 17 on the park for the next month they will make a few teams start looking over their shoulders. The Titans are due to get some key playmakers back in coming weeks but it might be a week too late. Sea Eagles by seven.