Titans v Dragons preview

Gold Coast Titans v St George Illawarra Dragons
Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 30 August 4.10pm

Victory is a non-negotiable for the eighth-placed Dragons as their finals hopes go on the line against the Titans on Sunday.

St George Illawarra travel to the Gold Coast knowing a win could secure them a place within the top eight, depending on the outcome of the Sea Eagles-Roosters clash at Brookvale on Friday night.

If the Sea Eagles can spring an upset and defeat the injury-hit Roosters, they'll need the Dragons to lose to against the 15th-placed Titans in order to keep their finals hopes alive.

If the Dragons fail to get the job done against the second-from-bottom Titans, another opportunity to sneak into September action awaits against the bottom-placed Tigers in Round 26.

So while fate remains firming in their hands, anything less than two strong wins to finish the season would indicate the Dragons were purely in the top eight just to make up the numbers.

Top of the Telstra Premiership table at the end of Round 12 with eight wins from 11 games; the Dragons have only won three out of their past 12 matches and have fallen dramatically down the ladder as a result.

On the plus side for the Red V, their recent wins have all come in August including impressive victories against the Knights and Warriors, and last weekend's 19-12 result against Penrith.

One rung above the foot of the ladder, the Titans' preparations for 2016 have already begun in earnest as they gear up for their final home game of the season at Cbus Super Stadium. 

In team changes, Titans coach Neil Henry loses Greg Bird (quadriceps) and Ryan James (suspension) for Sunday's clash.

Daniel Mortimer will replace Bird at five-eighth, Beau Falloon moves to hooker and Kierran Moseley comes onto the bench, while Lachlan Burr replaces James in the starting side.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor welcomes back experienced winger Jason Nightingale, who will replace Justin Hunt, while Joel Thompson returns to replace the suspended Jake Marketo.

Sunday's match will also coincide with the Titans' Old Boys day, where members of the original Giants team plus members of Seagulls, Chargers and original Titans will form a guard of honour as the team runs out.

 

Watch out Titans: Josh Dugan is a player who can change the shape of a game in an instant. Whether it's plucking the Steeden out of mid-air or bursting through the defensive line, Dugan has the pace, power and agility to match it with anyone in the NRL.

Surprisingly, the former Raider only has six tries this season after scoring 10 last year, but ranks highly in four other statistical categories. Dugan ranks third in NRL for hit-ups/runs (356), running metres (3,475 metres at an average of 183 per game), tackle breaks (89) and last line of defence tackles (eight). Currently sitting on 49 tries from 117 NRL appearances, the NSW Origin star would love to bring up his half-century on the Gold Coast after three games without a four-pointer.

Watch out Dragons: Off the field, Kalifa Faifai-Loa has had a year he'd rather forget. A court appearance earlier in the season and the recent death of his father could have easily seen the off-contract winger throw in the towel on his Titans career.

Consigned to Intrust Super Cup duties with the Tweed Heads Seagulls for the majority of 2015, the 25-year-old recently returned to the Titans' line-up and has managed to score doubles against the Bulldogs and Raiders in his past two matches.

To compliment his brace of tries against the Green Machine, Faifai-Loa made 189 metres and two line breaks in Sunday's 28-12 win over Canberra, combining on the left edge with inside man Nene Macdonald (one try and 246 metres) to great effect. 

The former Cowboy played two games for the Dragons in his debut year of 2010 and has 25 tries from 51 games.

Key Match-Up: Kane Elgey v Benji Marshall. Elgey produced arguably the best game of his fledging career with a man-of-the-match display in Sunday's win over the Raiders. One try, three try assists and a 40/20 kick highlighted the 21-year-old halfback's dominate display as he came into the side as a late inclusion after overcoming a hip injury.

What made his performance even more eye-catching was that he dominated without stand-in five-eighth Greg Bird, who was injured at kick-off, and without the already injured Aidan Sezer.

Marshall, meanwhile, also returned from injury (hamstring) in Round 24 but failed to exert his usual influence over proceedings. His 69-minute field goal to hand the Dragons a 13-12 lead was the 30-year-old's only telling contribution against the Panthers.

Born in New Zealand but raised on the Gold Coast, the former Keebra Park High student will be itching to excite the local crowd while guiding his team towards what would be a crucial victory.

The History: Played 14; Titans 4, Dragons 10. The Titans have a poor record against the Dragons stretching back to their inaugural clash in Round 1, 2007. It took the Gold Coast six attempts before they recorded their first win over the Red V in 2009, but they've only tasted victory three times since then.

The Dragons have won two in a row against the Titans with their last loss a 15-14 defeat at Robina in Round 9, 2013. These sides have met on six occasions at Cbus Super Stadium with the Dragons winning four of those encounters.

Did You Know: Neil Henry will coach his 200th NRL match this weekend after making his debut as a first-grade coach with the Raiders in 2007. The 54-year-old has a win ratio of 45 percent (91 wins and 108 losses).

What Are The Odds: Titans $2.65 v Dragons $1.48. The Titans price has firmed since they knocked off the Raiders last weekend, but Dragons 1-12 is the most popular option in margin betting with Sportsbet. The Titans are well supported at the line, where they are receiving a +6 start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au

Match Officials: Lead Referee: Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee: Gavin Morris; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Steve Clark and Luke Patten.

Televised: Channel Nine – 3.30pm (Qld and NSW), GEM (Victoria).

The Way We See It: The outcome of this clash will boil down to which side is more desperate for victory. The Titans will be looking to put in a strong showing in front of their home fans while also battling to avoid the wooden spoon, whereas the Dragons must start ramping up their performances if they harbour any hopes of giving the finals a serious shake. It's hard to see either side running away with this game, but the Dragons should prove to be too strong. Dragons by 8.