Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans
Central Coast Stadium
There's often no rhyme or reason but some teams just have the wood over another.
The Dragons were 'cursed' by the Raiders for a decade but in turn have accumulated an 11-game winning streak over the Warriors.
Melbourne have lost just one of their past 16 games against the Panthers and while the Bulldogs' record against the Titans is nowhere near as extreme it is an anomaly that is almost impossible to explain.
As the Bulldogs have qualified for the Telstra Premiership Finals Series in each of the past three seasons under coach Des Hasler – including twice going all the way to the grand final – they have only registered one win from five games against Gold Coast who have missed the finals now for five straight seasons.
Funny things happen when these two teams meet, the most extraordinary coming in Round 26 last season when the Bulldogs led 18-0 at half-time a week out from the finals only to be run down in the dying minutes and eventually defeated 19-18 in golden point extra time.
All signs would point to the first meeting of the Bulldogs and Titans in Gosford well and truly going the way of the men in blue and white but footy doesn't always work that way.
The Bulldogs have been bolstered by the return of Greg Eastwood but there remains a question mark over hooker Michael Lichaa who suffered a knee injury against the Broncos last week.
Beau Falloon and Eddy Pettybourne have both been recalled for the Titans although captain Nate Myles will miss a third straight game with a shoulder injury.
Watch Out Bulldogs: With 11 first-half offloads against the Storm last Sunday the Titans left no doubt as to how they thought they could break down the Melbourne defence and the big Bulldogs forwards should expect to have to make more second efforts this Sunday. Not one single Titan is ranked in the top 30 for offloads in the NRL this season but the team as a whole ranks second with 223, showing a license to offload across the entire squad. Eddy Pettybourne is the most prolific Titan with 19 offloads and his return to the team should only add to Gold Coast's second-phase football.
Watch Out Titans: The barrage of Bulldogs big boppers is relentless and unless the Titans can find a way of halting their momentum they could be exposed around the middle of the ruck as they were against Melbourne. With Eastwood back in the line-up after a week out suspended the Dogs are stronger again than the team that defeated the Broncos and are ranked first in run metres and second in metres after contact. They are unlikely to have the intricacies around the ruck that Melbourne boast but the sheer weight of momentum will have the Titans back-pedalling for 80 minutes if they don't man up in defence.
Key Match-up: Josh Morris v James Roberts. A foot-race between these two over 80 metres would be worth the price of admission alone but physically the match-up is more one-sided. Morris's speed combined with his power caused all sorts of problems for the Broncos last week with his ability to push through defenders and generate a quick play-the-ball. He'll fancy his chances if he can get a crack at Roberts in a one-on-one scenario. Kept tryless against the Storm, Roberts ran for 104 metres from 10 carries including six tackle busts and is clearly the most potent attacking weapon at the Titans' disposal. If he truly harbours Origin ambitions, getting the better of Morris would be a good start.
History: Played 12; Bulldogs 5; Titans 7. The Titans have become something of a bogey team for the Bulldogs in recent years with the Gold Coast boys winning the past four encounters, the most recent one being the Titans' 28-14 win at Cbus Super Stadium in Round 14. The good news for Bulldogs fans is their team's record at Gosford, with six wins from eight games dating back to 2001.
What Are The Odds: Bulldogs $1.22, Titans $4.25. Sportsbet have found it difficult to take a decent-sized bet on the Titans to cause the upset in this one. Money is running 10 to one for the Bulldogs, however both Curtis Rona and James Roberts are as popular as ever in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Did You Know: Last year's Round 26 golden-point win at Cbus Super Stadium was just Titans coach Neil Henry's fourth win over a Des Hasler-coached team from 12 games. Henry made it two on the trot when the Titans saluted in Round 14 this season but had endured a lean trot prior to that. The only time the pair have coached against each other at Gosford previously was in Round 1, 2013 when Henry's North Queensland Cowboys triumphed 24-12 over the Bulldogs.
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich; Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall; Touch Judges: Jeff Younis and Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Steve Clark and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 3.30pm.
How We See It: Given their performance to come back from 10-0 down to defeat the Broncos last week it's hard not to think that the Bulldogs are getting ready to hit their stride. A sunny afternoon on the Central Coast could be just the time to make a statement. The Titans threw plenty at Melbourne and were deserving half-time leaders last Sunday but in the end class – and motivation – told and it's easy to see something similar happening here. Bulldogs by 16 points.