Schick Hydro Preview: Titans v Roosters
Cbus Super Stadium
If you'd asked Titans coach Neil Henry whether he'd be content to be sitting ahead of the Roosters on the ladder through nine rounds of the Telstra Premiership and you may have even cracked a gleeful grin.
But the fact the Titans are coming off the back of a 38-0 flogging that was their fifth loss on the trot and Henry's mood will be suddenly sullen.
Three wins in the opening month of the season now seem like a lifetime ago for the Titans while the Roosters finally cracked their duck in Round 6 and bolstered by the return of Mitchell Pearce put 38 unanswered points on the Knights.
Papua New Guinea pair David Mead and Nene Macdonald were the Titans' only representatives in senior fixtures over the weekend while the Roosters provided seven players to various teams, all of whom came through unscathed.
The Titans have recalled prop David Shillington after he was left out of the team that went down 38-0 to the Storm with Eddy Pettybourne and Anthony Don named on an extended bench.
The Roosters are still without Shaun Kenny-Dowall, his place on the wing taken by NSW Origin winger Daniel Tupou with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to again start from the bench.
Watch out Titans: Roosters fans aren't quite saying 'Roger who?' just yet but the emergence of 18-year-old fullback Latrell Mitchell has been the one bright point in the Roosters' difficult season to date. At an age when most kids are still hitting the books Mitchell has been taking seasoned first-graders to school with a majestic running style and powerful fend that has yielded 48 tackle breaks in his first nine games in the NRL. He hasn't missed a minute of the Roosters' NRL season to date and his kick returns shape as a major weapon against the Titans, who afforded Cameron Munster too much room in their last start. Refreshed after a weekend off, expect to see Mitchell jumping out of his skin with every involvement.
Watch out Roosters: There are innumerable upsides to Nene Macdonald's game but the Papua New Guinea international needs to graduate from being a bit player to a genuine match-winner if the Titans are to break out of their slump. He showed against the Sharks he has plenty of speed when he raced 80 metres to score, his big frame should push through plenty of tackles and he has enough sharp footwork that he should be able to beat almost any player one on one. While Roosters centre Blake Ferguson has 26 tackle breaks Macdonald has just 16 and has not been credited with a single line break all season. Coach Neil Henry has shown faith by selecting him in the centres; time to repay it with a standout display against the Roosters.
Key match-up: Ryan James v Dylan Napa. Two whole-hearted players with aggressive tendencies in their games and future rep selection in their eyes, the battle between James and Napa will be a ripper. Ill-discipline has been starting to creep back into James's game in recent weeks but he can't afford to hold back if he is to quell the influence of Napa. The 23-year-old almost single-handedly destroyed the Rabbitohs pack in Round 6 and it will be up to James and Greg Bird to make sure he doesn't do it again. Statistically little separates them (James averages 122m and 36 tackles, Napa 130m and 38 tackles), it's how they inspire those around them that will be critical come Monday.
The history: Played 13; Titans 7, Roosters 6. The Roosters' biggest win over the Titans came when it hurts the most, one game short of the 2010 grand final. Having finished the season in fourth place, the Titans earned a week off with a win over the Warriors but succumbed to a red-hot Roosters team 32-6 in the Preliminary Final after trailing 12-6 at half-time. Since that night honours have been evenly shared with three wins apiece, the Roosters winning the past two games between the teams. Three times they have met in Monday night games, the Roosters with the 2-1 winning record.
What are the odds? Titans $2.75; Roosters $1.45. The Roosters have been big firmers since Sportsbet opened markets on this match. Blake Ferguson is the best backed for first try-scorer and has been supported to score a try and for the Roosters to win the game in Sportsbet's win-try combo. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Russell Turner and Belinda Sleeman. Review Officials: Luke Patten and Matt Cecchin. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm
How we see it: One team suffered a 38-point defeat the other victors by the same margin last start but there's unlikely to be a blowout on a Monday night on the Gold Coast. The Roosters will be eager to prove that with their troops back on deck that their worst is well and truly behind them and the Titans are desperate to overturn a five-match losing streak that has them falling well down the ladder. With a near full-strength forward pack and Mitchell Pearce at the helm expect the Roosters to channel their energies through the middle third of the field which the Titans will struggle to contain. Roosters by eight points.