Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders
Cbus Super Stadium
All is lost, there's no place for beginning,
All that's left is an unhappy ending.
For those still searching for an answer to the 1975 Jimmy Ruffin hit, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, a couple of hours at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday could be time well spent.
With little left to play for but pride for both teams, how they respond to their latest heartbreak will be the most telling factor as the Titans look to record just their fourth win at home for 2015 and move themselves out of wooden-spoon positioning against a Raiders team coming to terms with another missed finals series.
The Titans enjoyed a brief mid-year flirtation with the top eight in what has otherwise been a challenging season both on and off the field but after the events of last Sunday no one could blame the Raiders for giving up on love altogether.
Falling behind 16-0 to the Sea Eagles is never a good idea but Canberra went on to somehow score 24 unanswered points only to concede two tries in the final nine minutes to lose by two.
It was the latest in a string of torturous liaisons that has seen – prior to Round 23 – the most potent attacking team in the competition dumped just three weeks out from the prom.
For the second straight week the Titans pushed a top eight contender for three-quarters of their fixture before they literally ran out of playmakers against the Bulldogs, but have a host of players still trying to convince coach Neil Henry they are worthy of a contract for 2016 and beyond.
The home side will be without the calming influence of Canberra-bound five-eighth Aidan Sezer who injured a shoulder last Sunday in Gosford and with Kane Elgey still sidelined by a hip complaint the Gold Coast playmaking stocks look very bare.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has recalled Joseph Leilua in the centres after a week out suspended with Jarrad Kennedy coming into the starting team in the second row for Mitchell Barnett and Luke Bateman added to the bench.
Having scored 24 points himself when the teams last met in Round 9, Raiders captain Jarrod Croker will be hoping for a big haul to maintain his position at the top of the point-scorer's list alongside Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.
Titans fans also get one last chance to boo Raiders prop David Shillington before he joins the club at the start of pre-season in November.
Watch Out Titans: Jack Wighton is a talent in all areas except trampolining and is quickly joining the ranks of elite fullbacks throughout the NRL. Whether through powerful runs in attack or ever-improving positioning in defence, Wighton was superb against the Sea Eagles last week, keeping his team in the contest with some last-ditch efforts on the try-line and beyond and racking up more than 200 running metres along with six tackle busts. When the Raiders last visited the Gold Coast their fullback – Anthony Milford – carved the Titans to shreds; Wighton has the capability to do something similar if in a very different manner.
Watch Out Raiders: Rarely does David Mead play a game at fullback that doesn't leave you wondering why he doesn't do it on a more regular basis. Last year he rode five games at the back for the Titans to a Country Origin No.1 jersey where he scored two tries and he scored again when he played there again for Country this year. Last week's game against the Bulldogs was Mead's 16th NRL game at fullback and he ran for 180 metres and was integral in getting his team out of trouble and everything he does is at 100 miles an hour. Make no mistake, Mead wants to play fullback full-time and this is yet another opportunity to prove he deserves it.
Key Match-up: Greg Bird v Shaun Fensom. Two whole-hearted lock forwards very different in style but equally influential on the fortunes of their respective teams. Since returning from suspension Bird has injected much-needed energy and enthusiasm into the Titans and revelled in the extra responsibility of captaining the team in Nate Myles's absence. He hasn't missed a minute of the past three games and has come up with three valuable try assists. Fensom was his usual industrious self against Manly with 180 metres and 45 tackles but it was his charges in behind the ruck that helped turn the tide his side's way. Over 80 minutes on Sunday, these two won't be far from the action.
History: Played 16; Titans 9; Raiders 7. For the second week in succession the Titans face a team against whom they boast a winning record but have in fact dropped their past two to the Raiders. The 56-16 thumping by Canberra at home in Round 9 was the second time they had posted that many points against the Titans, their 56-10 win in 2007 the biggest loss in Titans history. Conversely, Gold Coast's 36-0 win over Canberra at Robina two years ago is the second-biggest win the club has ever recorded.
Did You Know: Titans flyer James Roberts scored four tries playing for South Sydney against Canberra in an under-20s preliminary final in 2010. Just 17 years of age at the time, Roberts' quartet of tries included one from his in-goal area as the young Rabbitohs thrashed the Raiders 64-18 to earn a place in the NYC Grand Final. Roberts scored a try in his first appearance against the Raiders last year and needs just one more to set a new Titans record for most tries in a season.
What Are The Odds: Titans $2.15, Raiders $1.65. Not exactly the biggest betting game of the season and punters with Sportsbet seem undecided. Money is split almost 50/50 in head-to-head betting, while both sides have been backed to win the game 1-12. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Reynolds; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch Judges: Brett Sutto and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Steve Clark and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
How We See It: Canberra have clearly been a better team than the Titans in 2015 but they will get to play as many finals games as the Titans this season. The Raiders completed at 75 per cent against the Sea Eagles last Sunday compared to 61 per cent for Gold Coast against Canterbury and who controls possession early will determine the winner in this one. Providing they can bounce back from the disappointment of last week, the Raiders should have enough to get the job done against a Titans team lacking creativity in the halves. Canberra by 16 points.