Schick Hydro Preview: Gold Coast Titans v Sydney Roosters
Cbus Super Stadium
If these two teams had met in Round 1 of the Telstra Premiership 12 months ago the pre-season pundits would have been making provisions for the mercy rule to be put in effect.
But as it stands the Titans start 2017 as the sons of September whilst the Roosters were the lower-ladder stragglers.
As we know, much can change in the course of a few months in rugby league and the Roosters are once again considered one of the premiership fancies while the jury remains divided as to whether the Titans can turn finals football last year into a premiership push in 2017.
Gold Coast have been plagued by injuries to key players throughout the pre-season with the loss of hooker Nathan Peats in the club's final trial leaving them without a genuine No.9 for possibly the first six weeks of the season.
Jarryd Hayne, Kevin Proctor, Dan Sarginson and Konrad Hurrell have all spent time together in the rehab group nursing knee injuries and young halves Ashley Taylor and Kane Elgey are yet to play a full game together.
Although Mitchell Pearce has been restricted in his pre-season trials there are no such injury concerns for the Roosters who go into this clash minus only back-rower Sio Siua Taukeiaho and with new recruits Michael Gordon and Luke Keary lining up at fullback and five-eighth respectively.
The match also marks Jared Waerea-Hargeaves's 150th game in the NRL, the sixth player in the Roosters squad to have reached the milestone.
Why Titans can win: As daunting as the Roosters forward pack appears on paper, the Titans now have the man-power to match it with any team in the competition through the middle. The additions of Jarrod Wallace and Kevin Proctor complement the industrious nature of both Ryan James and Chris McQueen with some size and skill in the form of Leivaha Pulu at lock. If the Titans can win that battle it will give young halves pairing Ashley Taylor and Kane Elgey the platform to showcase their abundant skills to a big home crowd.
Why Roosters can win: The nightmare of 2016 may go unspoken but this is the Roosters' first chance to wipe the slate clean and revert back to the team that won three consecutive minor premierships. The forward pack is all class, rookie sensation Latrell Mitchell is now a centre and Mitchell Pearce is poised to resume his place as one of the game's premier halves. If the Roosters win the ruck, they could cause the Titans all sorts of headaches on the edges with Mitchell and Boyd Cordner patrolling the left and Mitch Aubusson and Blake Ferguson on the right.
Key match-up: Kevin Proctor v Boyd Cordner. Two of the game's premier back-rowers have been entrusted with the co-captaincy of their respective teams in 2017 and their one-on-one battle shapes as the most enthralling of this clash.
The history: Played 14; Titans 8; Roosters 6. Prior to the arrival of the Titans, the Roosters had won 11 straight against Gold Coast teams, a run that was extended to 12 when they claimed the first contest between the two teams 24-18 in Round 9, 2007. The Titans have won eight of the 13 clashes since but lost the most famous meeting, the 2010 Preliminary Final at Suncorp Stadium. In front of close to 45,000 people the Roosters booked a berth in the grand final with a 32-6 win having led 12-6 at half-time. When they met at Cbus Super Stadium in Round 10 last year the Titans triumphed 26-6.
What are the odds: The Titans were posted as favourites with Sportsbet originally, but 85 per cent of money on the Roosters has turned things around dramatically. The Roosters are now pronounced favourites and no side has received more backing over the past fortnight to win the premiership and to make the top eight. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee: Jon Stone; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Belinda Sleeman; Review Official: Ben Galea; Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 8.00pm (9.00pm AEDT)
NRL.com predicts: Given the disrupted preparation around the home side and the buzz building already around the Roosters, it might be the visitors who are quickest out of the blocks to start 2017. They are massive across the park and if the men in the middle do their job, the likes of Blake Ferguson and Latrell Mitchell will be tough to contain out wide. There'll be rust on both sides but the Roosters will be the ones to blow the cobwebs out quickest. Roosters by eight points.