Schick Hydro Preview: Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels
Cbus Super Stadium
Friday, 7.05pm (AEST)
With landing gear failure grounding the 'Hayne Plane' and the silky skills of Corey Norman falling foul to a hamstring strain both the Titans and Eels have to look elsewhere for the x-factor that will prove the difference between winning and losing.
The Titans have turned to a debutant in Tyler Cornish to fill the void left by Jarryd Hayne at fullback while the Eels have taken an altogether different tact, calling up veteran Jeff Robson to partner Clinton Gutherson in the halves.
The question that this now raises is whether the Titans are better equipped to handle the raft of injuries that have beset the club over the past month than the Eels are to construct effective attacking sets without Norman in the side.
With Norman suspended and nothing to play for last season the Eels won just three of their final eight games with Gutherson and Robson at the helm with one of their five losses a 34-14 thumping at the hands of the Titans on the Gold Coast.
In terms of the injury count at the Titans by half-time against the Knights last week only Eddy Pettybourne remained on the interchange bench and the only players to come back into the 21-man squad named by coach Neil Henry on Tuesday are centre Dan Sarginson, winger William Zillman and utility Ryan Simpkins with Karl Lawton (dislocated shoulder) highly doubtful despite being named.
Recognising the need to start much better than they have in the opening fortnight the Titans have promoted Agnatius Paasi to the starting side who along with Ryan James, Jarrod Wallace, Kevin Proctor and Chris McQueen need to quell the opening onslaught of the big Eels forwards.
The Titans are yet to score a try in the opening 20 minutes of their two games to date but for the sake of their confidence need to be the ones to strike first on Friday night.
Why Titans can win it: They're due? Taking into account their last three games of 2016 the Titans' losing streak now stands at five and with a number of key personnel unavailable due to injury the task seems a very difficult one. The Titans' last win at home was in Round 20 last year against the Eels (34-14) so perhaps that omen, the absence of Norman for the Eels and the fighting spirit they have displayed in each of their opening two games can provide their fans with some cause for optimism.
Why Eels can win it: Through two rounds of the Telstra Premiership no team has had more use of the footy than the Eels (58 per cent) and they have put it to good use with wins over the Sea Eagles and Dragons. Their 17 errors are second-best in the league and they have 11 line breaks, just one behind the Rabbitohs which means they have a potent mix of discipline and strike-power. If they get more than 50 per cent of the ball on Friday the Titans will struggle to contain them.
Key match-up: Konrad Hurrell v Michael Jennings. Two vastly contrasting styles go head-to-head with both players having made bright starts to 2017. Hurrell made some poor errors last week against the Knights when he shifted out to the wing and will no doubt recall being left clutching at thin air by the fast feet of Jennings in 2014 when the pair were both at former clubs. Jennings also has the not insignificant luxury of having Semi Radadra on his outside.
 Telstra Premiership: Konrad Hurrell vs Michael Jennings
All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks, Line Breaks, Try Assists.
The history: Played 15; Titans 10; Eels 5. The Eels may have got caught up in the holiday spirit on previous visits to the Gold Coast, winning just two of nine games on Titans' home soil. The biggest win in the Titans' history came against Parramatta in 2013 (42-4 in Mudgee) but the most significant meeting came in 2009 when the Titans were swamped by the Eels' momentum 27-2 to bow out of their first finals series with two straight defeats.
What are the odds: Parramatta have been the best backed side of the round by a long way according to the markets with Sportsbet. After opening as outsiders at $1.95, 70 per cent of bets on the winning margin have been for a 13-plus victory to the Eels. Four-try hero Semi Radradra has been backed to do it all again in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee: Chris James; Touch Judges: Belinda Sleeman and Nick Morel; Review Official: Ben Galea; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm (AEDT); Fox League – Live from 7.30pm (AEDT).
NRL.com predicts: The loss of Norman is a massive blow to the Eels who would have been considered raging hot favourites with their star halfback in the team. Gold Coast need to start far better than they have in their first two games otherwise they will find themselves with a deficit that they won't be able to recover from. If Parramatta win the middle they should have enough class to get the job done. Eels by six points.