Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans
Saturday, 5.30pm (AEDT)
The Titans will travel from the sunny Gold Coast to the nation’s capital for what should be a cracking Easter Saturday clash between two sides exceeding expectations so far in season 2016.
You might not have tipped it, but this is a top eight clash, with the Titans sitting in sixth position, coming off an impressive victory over the Tigers, and the Raiders coming in just behind the competition leaders in second spot, thanks to their unbeaten start to the year.
Adding to the spectacle, both teams come into this one fielding the same team as Round 2, with the Raiders in particular finally being afforded some continuity in a starting team already ravaged by injury.
Elliot Whitehead retains his place in the halves after a fine outing last start against the Knights in which he brilliantly set up two tries, however his selection in the No.6 jersey will once again place a large amount of last-tackle pressure on halfback Sam Williams.
Although luckily for the Raiders, Dally M leader Josh Hodgson has emerged as a genuine playmaking option, and just in time too, following injuries to Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin.
Meanwhile, David Shillington will return to Canberra for the first time since departing the club at the conclusion of last season.
He’ll face a stern test up front against Shannon Boyd and Frank-Paul Nuuausala who’ve been extremely strong in the opening stages of games so far this season.
Watch out Raiders: The Titans have been playing some enterprising footy so far this season, on the back of some great second-phase play. They currently sit fourth in the league for offloads (12 per game). With their penchant for keeping the ball alive, the Titans have been able to make inroads with their speedy backs, as seen last week against the Tigers. The Raiders will need to be on their game defensively to lock the Titans' ball runners down.
Watch out Titans: The Raiders currently sit third in the league for tackle breaks (averaging 29.3 per game), while the Titans sit second in the league for missed tackles with 29.7 per game. This could spell danger for the Gold Coast, who can’t afford to give anything away to a Raiders team that already bends the line with every hit-up thanks to their monster forward pack.
Key match-up: Shaun Fensom v Greg Bird. The two inspirational leaders of their teams will go head-to-head in an enticing battle on Saturday afternoon. Both have had impressive statistics in games so far this season, with Bird a far greater attacking threat and Fensom predictably the defensive specialist, tackling at 94.1 per cent efficiency so far this year. Whichever tough nut can get the better of this matchup will go a long way to winning the forward battle and inspiring their side to success.
The history: Played 17; Raiders 7, Titans 10. The last time these two sides met was in Round 24 last year when the Titans cleaned up their opposition by 28 points to 12.
What are the odds: Raiders $1.42, Titans $2.85. There’s actually more money wagered on the Titans than there is on the favourites Canberra. Sportsbet punters are looking for the value on offer with the Gold Coast and they’ve been very well supported at the line where they’re receiving the start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant: Chris Sutton. Touch Judges: Clayton Sharpe and Nick Beashel.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 5pm (AEDT).
The way we see it: The Titans will travel to the nation’s capital full of confidence after their impressive victory over the Tigers last start. But they’ll be facing a totally different challenge against the Raiders, who’ve been the success story so far this year through a huge forward pack and a tough mentality. If the Titans are to win this one they’ll have to play above their weight through the middle third of the field and dominate out wide. The home side shouldn’t give them that chance however. Their makeshift halves combination has finally had a chance to gel and their big men should be far too strong. Raiders by 10.