Schick Hydro Preview: Titans v Sea Eagles
Cbus Super Stadium
Two teams who let two competition points slip through their fingers last week meet on a mid-winter Monday night desperate to keep their finals flame flickering.
Sitting on the outside of the top eight only on for-and-against, this represents the first of two games at home in the space of a week for the Titans who are without Greg Bird due to Origin commitments and may be missing Konrad Hurrell with a calf complaint.
A three-game winning streak came to a halt with a disappointing display against the Eels in Darwin last Saturday and with the Raiders, Bulldogs and Panthers all enjoying a bye this weekend Gold Coast needs to return to winning ways in order to stay in touch with the top eight.
Manly's prospects of a late season surge appeared to have been bolstered when they raced out to a 24-4 lead against Penrith at Brookvale last Sunday but inexplicably conceded 27 unanswered points to sit in 14th place on the Telstra Premiership ladder through 14 rounds.
After a starring role in the first half against the Panthers Dylan Walker has returned to Blues Origin camp but the Sea Eagles have found a capable replacement with Jamie Lyon returning from a hamstring injury to partner Apisai Koroisau in the halves.
The loss of Nate Myles to a knee injury has been softened somewhat by Martin Taupau's return from suspension with outstanding prop forward prospect Liam Knight included on an 18-man bench for what would be his NRL debut.
Josh Starling is due to play his 50th game for Manly on Monday night in what will be the 15th meeting of these two teams.
Watch out Titans: Other than the 2003 and 2010 seasons when he played just one game each year, 2016 represents the most severe try-scoring drought of Brett Stewart's illustrious career but his strike-rate against the Titans is the best of any NRL team. In nine games against the Titans Stewart has scored 10 tries and won on eight occasions, his only defeat coming in the only game in which he didn't cross for a four-pointer, a 16-14 loss in 2013. Manly's all-time leading try-scorer with 163 hasn't scored since Round 3 in Manly's win over the Sharks but will fancy his chances against a team that has missed a combined 79 tackles in their past two games.
Watch out Sea Eagles: The Titans have had great success this season in going to their edge forwards and should like the match-up against a smaller Sea Eagles back row on Monday night. Manly have named Lewis Brown and Jamie Buhrer in the back row giving Gold Coast a size advantage with their pair of Zeb Taia and Chris McQueen. With half Apisai Koroisau also likely to play on the left for Manly, McQueen and towering centre Nathan Davis should have some opportunities to create some second phase football on the right edge while Taia will ensure Buhrer and Lyon are made to come up with plenty of tackles on Gold Coast's left side. Along with winger Anthony Don, Taia and Ryan James are the leading Gold Coast try-scorers with five apiece and will hammer away at the Manly defence close to the line looking for their sixth of the season.
Key match-up: Tyrone Roberts v Jamie Lyon. When two teams who are outside the top eight meet mid-season it is a measure of the senior players in the team as to who comes away with the two points. Youth and exuberance are integral ingredients to a team's success but if this game is tight with 10 minutes to play the calm heads will be the ones under most pressure. Although Ashley Taylor has emerged as a bright young talent Tyrone Roberts remains the senior member of the Titans' halves and largely responsible for the team's kicking game. Still one of the game's premier centres, Lyon's return from a hamstring injury is a timely one as he slots into the five-eighth position vacated by Origin representative Dylan Walker. Manly have lost the past three games in which Lyon has started at five-eighth but his career record in the No.6 jersey stands at 29 wins from 43 games. These two will be the ones with the result in their hands late on Monday night.
History: Played 14; Titans 5, Sea Eagles 9. The Titans' entry into the competition in 2007 coincided with a period of Sea Eagles dominance and thus wins were hard to come by in the early years. The news hasn't been great of late either for Gold Coast faithful Manly winning four of the past five including the last three on the trot and five of eight games at Cbus Super Stadium.
What are the odds: Titans $1.45, Sea Eagles $2.75. Gold Coast are the solid favourites but Sportsbet has received money for both sides to win by 1-12 which suggests we could be in for a tight one. There are however twice as many individual bets on the Titans as far as head to head is concerned. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Russell Turner and Nick Morel. Review Officials: Matt Cecchin and Ben Galea. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 6.30pm
How we see it: The second-half fadeout against the Panthers should be of concern to the Sea Eagles as they come up against a Titans team that has proven regularly that they can fight back late in games. Gold Coast's major trump card is two genuine halves in Ashley Taylor and Tyrone Roberts compared to Manly's pairing of Jamie Lyon and Apisai Koroisau but the loss of Greg Bird is a significant one. If the Titans can keep Manly's aggressive forward pack in check their halves should be able to engineer a hard-fought win. Titans by seven points.