Schick Hydro Preview: Gold Coast Titans v St George Illawarra Dragons
Cbus Super Stadium
There comes a time in every team's season when they must define how a year is going to be remembered.
Will the Titans be confined to history as a team whose cruel injury toll saw them fall short of the high expectations they carried on the back of such encouraging signs last season, or one who defied the odds with a hot streak that didn't end until September?
Will St George Illawarra's 2017 be defined as one that gave their fans great cause for optimism early only to fade out of finals contention in the back-end, or a team that made so-called experts who predicted a wooden spoon in their future – I don't know what I was thinking – eat their carefully crafted words with a large dollop of humility as the Red V cut a swathe through the finals series?
As they meet in Round 17 both scenarios are eminently possible after the Titans broke a four-game losing streak with a win over the Wests Tigers that only became convincing in the final 20 minutes and the Dragons came back from 28-10 down against Newcastle to record just their third win in the past two months.
With the returns of Tyrone Roberts and Chris McQueen the Titans have named a squad as strong as any they have trotted out this season while the Dragons lose one big man and welcome another back with Paul Vaughan facing a month out with a calf strain and Jack de Belin having served his one-game suspension.
Centre Euan Aitken is also back for St George Illawarra which sees Kurt Mann shift into the halves alongside Gareth Widdop and Josh McCrone move back to the bench.
Both teams have a bye waiting for them on the other side of this game which makes it effectively a four-point offering.
A Titans win will keep their season alive for another week whilst for the Dragons it will put them as few as two wins from a finals appearance.
The losers might be left to wonder whether they have what it takes to make 2017 truly memorable.
 Telstra Premiership: Jarryd Hayne vs Josh Dugan
Tackle Breaks, All Run Metres, Tries, Try Assists.
Why the Titans can win: A look down the team list this week provides a reminder of why the Titans were considered something of finals certainties before the season kicked off. A superstar fullback in Jarryd Hayne, tackle-busting centre in Konrad Hurrell, crafty halves, two hard-working props, a tenacious No.9 and representative-calibre back row. It's all there and if they can pick up where they left off in the second half against the Tigers there's no reason they can't give the 13 teams ahead of them cause for concern.
Why the Dragons can win: The Titans score the vast majority of their tries on the back of penalties but they will be granted precious few opportunities if the Dragons can maintain the discipline they have displayed so far this year. In 15 games the Dragons have conceded just 78 penalties, equal third-fewest this season while the Titans are eighth with a total of 95 penalties. Defensively St George Illawarra are ranked sixth so if they can repel the early energy the Titans are likely to throw at them they have the potential to frustrate the home side into error.
 Telstra Premiership: Kevin Proctor vs Joel Thompson
Tackle Breaks, Offloads, All Run Metres, Line Breaks.
The history: Played 17; Titans 6; Dragons 11. Stretching back to Round 1, 2007 the oldest rivalry the Titans possess has been evenly contested in recent times with the two teams splitting the past 10 encounters five wins apiece. Gold Coast were convincing 32-12 victors when they last met the Dragons in Round 19 last year but historically the winning margins have been narrow. Ten of the 17 clashes have been decided by six points or less including, five of which were winning margins of two or one point. St George Illawarra have won five of eight games against the Titans on the Gold Coast.
What are the odds: Titans $1.90, Dragons $1.90. Gold Coast have been backed in from outsiders to equal favourites, and if the current rate of money (3:1) continues in favour of Gold Coast, they should start favourites against the Dragons. Titans 1-12 is the way Sportsbet punters are going as far as the winning margin is concerned. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch Judges: Rickey McFarlane and Clayton Sharpe; Review Official: Jared Maxwell; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 5.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: Five wins apiece in their past 10 meetings, even money with the bookmakers, both coming off wins against teams mired at the bottom of the ladder and both desperate for a win before a week off; are you a heads or tails person? On past form you have to believe that the Dragons' power game can expose a defence that has leaked more points than all except the Wests Tigers and that Gareth Widdop's class can prove the difference. The Titans have the potential to make a statement but they'll need something special from the men in the middle. Dragons by four points.