Schick Hydro Preview: Titans v Dragons
Cbus Super Stadium
Following last week's 25-20 loss to the Sharks it appears Titans coach Neil Henry has finally tired of the 'brave' tag for his team and would instead prefer to see the side earn the ascendancy early and go on with the job.
As the Titans have been lauded for the efforts to come back into games after tardy starts Dragons coach Paul McGregor lamented after his team's 26-0 loss to the Broncos that his players may in fact be guilty of trying too hard.
Last Thursday night the Dragons resembled a golfer trying to rediscover their swing as they over-analysed every attacking play and seemed panicked by every opportunity to score points that came their way, fearful that there may not be many others to follow.
The return of Benji Marshall from a hamstring strain in theory will improve the prospects of the Dragons putting some tries on the board, but he will need greater assistance and awareness from his outside men when he drifts cross-field like only Benji can.
Lock forward Greg Bird was unsuccessful in having his careless high tackle charge downgraded and won't take his place in the team after being named on Tuesday, and they have also chosen to rest five-eighth Tyrone Roberts for a further week, allowing Cameron Cullen to play his maiden NRL game on home soil after making his debut in Cronulla last week.
In addition to the return of Marshall former Titans winger Kalifa Faifai Loa will play his first NRL game for 2016 on the wing, replacing Peter Mata'utia with Josh McCrone to travel to the Gold Coast as 18th man.
Watch out Titans: There wasn't much more Josh Dugan could have done to inspire his team last Thursday against Brisbane and he will likely provide the inspiration if the Dragons are to break their point-scoring drought and register a win. Twenty-four runs for 311 metres, five tackle busts, an offload, a line break and at least three try-saving tackles on his own goal-line; he was so good he could have been man of the match. Dugan has scored tries in four of his past six matches against the Titans and each time he has done so the Dragons have won; Gold Coast must find a way to stop him.
Watch out Dragons: He's become something of a cult hero on the Gold Coast and every charge Agnatius Paasi makes into the Dragons defence will be met with raucous applause from the Titans' faithful. But the danger in Paasi's game is not merely the power to bust through the line but the skill to play before the line or slip a pass to support despite the attention of defenders. Off the bench last week he ran for 133 metres and helped inspire his side's comeback; look for him to make a similar impact on Saturday afternoon.
Key match-up: Ashley Taylor v Benji Marshall. Two players with a background in touch football but at opposite ends of the career spectrum, the match-up between Taylor and Marshall will be a fascinating one. Not expected to start the season when the Titans returned for pre-season training in January, Taylor found himself as the senior half last Sunday against the Sharks and handled the responsibility with aplomb, scoring a fine try and taking charge of the Titans' kicking game. After a week out with a hamstring strain the focus on Marshall will be whether he can find the old spark to ignite a Dragons attack that has failed to breathe any fire for a fortnight.
History: Played 15; Titans 5, Dragons 10. The Titans' very first opponents when they entered the competition, the Dragons have had the wood on Gold Coast ever since they pipped them 20-18 in front of more than 42,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium in Round 1, 2007. Nathan Friend and Ben Creagh are the only two remaining players from that first encounter nine years ago although Creagh will miss the match due to his knee injury. Despite the Dragons holding a 10-5 winning advantage the margins of victory have often been small, nine of the matches decided by six points or less including three by a single point.
What are the odds? Titans $1.62, Dragons $2.30. This is shaping as an extremely even betting game according to Sportsbet with both sides backed to win 1-12 in margin betting. The Dragons have actually been slight firmers despite their poor form of late. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Chris Butler. Touch Judges: Clayton Sharpe and Dave Ryan. Review Officials: Jason Robinson and Ben Galea. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2.30pm.
How we see it: All the Dragons need to regain some confidence is a couple of quick early tries and given the Titans' slow starts that is not out of the question on Saturday. Although the loss of Greg Bird will be significant, if the Titans can keep St George Illawarra quiet for the first 25 minutes they should have enough firepower to finish the stronger in the second half. Titans by 12 points.