Schick Hydro Preview: Titans v Raiders
Cbus Super Stadium
We're a long way from being 'must win' for either of these two teams but when they look back on their season in October and the opportunities that came and went this may well be a game that figures prominently in conversation.
After wins against the Warriors, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles the Raiders didn't meet the challenge presented by the Broncos in Brisbane in Round 14 but come into this game with the benefit of their first bye of the season last weekend.
The Titans also registered three wins on the trot before dropping two competition points in Darwin to a depleted Eels outfit and were good without being convincing in disposing of Manly 30-10 last Monday night to work their way back into the top eight.
The Raiders entered season 2016 with high expectations and the Titans were predicted to be also-rans; Sunday gives Gold Coast the ideal opportunity to prove that they deserve to be taken seriously as finals contenders.
Despite copping a head knock in Origin II on Wednesday night Greg Bird is expected to back up for the Titans who have been unable to find a place for Konrad Hurrell in the 17, Nathan Davis retaining his spot at right centre.
Like Bird Queensland forward Josh Papalii came through Origin II with no ill effects and is expected to play with the Raiders also to be bolstered by the returns of both Jack Wighton and Shannon Boyd from suspension.
Watch out Titans: If the Titans hadn't chased hard for Daly Cherry-Evans 18 months ago they may never have lost Aidan Sezer to Canberra. If Aidan Sezer hadn't gone to Canberra the Titans may not have even looked to prise Ashley Taylor away from the Broncos, with the 21-year-old exceeding all expectations in his rookie season. Sezer gave his all for the Titans in 71 games across four seasons on the Gold Coast and would love nothing more than to deliver another stellar performance in his first return to Cbus Super Stadium. His two try assists and two line-break assists through 11 games are well down on his previous seasons but Sezer will have something special in store on Sunday.
Watch out Raiders: The introduction of Nathan Peats into the starting team against Manly last Monday not only pulled the Sea Eagles defence apart around the ruck but gave halves Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor the time and space to link with their outside men in what was their most sparkling attacking period of the season. Peats helped to set up the first try with a clever ruck play for Luke Douglas that also involved Ryan James and then in the second half hit James with a pass from dummy-half that saw him stroll through some flimsy defence. The clash between Peats and Josh Hodgson will be one of the highlights of the game and key to earning ruck dominance.
Key match-up: Zeb Taia/Chris McQueen v Josh Papalii/Elliot Whitehead. Both the Titans and Raiders use their edge forwards to devastating effect in attack so if there are edge back-rowers who are prominent on Sunday then their team are likely to be the ones to come out on top. Zeb Taia has been a favourite target for the Titans on the left edge and has bagged five tries while on the right Chris McQueen's line running will punish any lazy Raiders defenders who don't close the space. Papalii and Whitehead are almost polar opposites but equally effective, the smart ball-playing ability of the Englishman complementing the brute force of Papalii. These are the men who will create half chances and how their teammates react will be key to success.
History: Played 18; Titans 11, Raiders 7. The Raiders have dished out some hidings to Gold Coast in recent years but overall it is the Titans who have the better of the ledger. They have won seven of the past 10 meetings and have defeated Canberra in seven of their nine trips to the Gold Coast since 2007. The Titans also carry forward the positive vibes from their win in Round 4 in Canberra where they staged a memorable comeback from 20-6 down to win 24-20.
What are the odds: Titans $2.05, Raiders $1.80. Punters were finding it hard to split these two teams but after the Titans opened as slight favourites the money has since come for Canberra. The money is virtually split 50/50 in the head-to-head market according to Sportsbet with Canberra 1-12 the way punters are leaning slightly. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Chris James; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Nick Morel; Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Jason Robinson; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 1.30pm
How we see it: The clear but brisk conditions will make the Raiders feel right at home in what should prove to be an excellent gauge of both teams' credentials for bigger games ahead. Sitting side-by-side on the Telstra Premiership ladder adds even greater interest with the Titans in position to skip ahead of Canberra with a win on home soil. It's a toss of the coin but the incredibly strong Raiders pack and strike out wide might be just too much for the Titans to contain. Raiders by four points.