The 12th-placed Titans (6-12) host the 7th-placed Warriors (11-7) in this week's clash on the Gold Coast, with both teams looking to rebound from losses last week. The match is of a higher profile than the NRL would like you to believe, with Gerard Sutton 'demoted' to referee the match this week after his previous performance.
That will mean nothing to the two sides though. The Titans' season is over, as they have struggled to show any consistency this season. They are coming into the contest with three losses in a row. Gold Coast looked to be in control midway through the second half against the Knights in Newcastle last week, leading 24-10, before they came apart to lose 30-24. They didn't score a point against Brisbane two weeks ago, before being unfortunate with calls going against them in their loss to the Roosters. The best they can hope for is to spoil the season for some of the top 8 sides.
One of those teams is the Warriors. They continued their loss/win/loss/win trend with a hard-fought 12-6 loss to the Storm in Auckland last week. Despite putting in a strong performance against the reigning premiers, their handling errors and general inefficiency on attack let them down. They won't be too discouraged from the display, but with teams wedged in alongside each other in the top 8, they need to start making these matches count.
2018 - Warriors 20 def. Titans 8 at Mt Smart Stadium
2017 - Warriors 34 def. Titans 12 at Cbus Super Stadium
2017 - Warriors 28 def. Titans 22 at Mt Smart Stadium
2016 - Warriors 24 def. Titans 14 at Cbus Super Stadium
2016 - Warriors 27 def. Titans 18 at Mt Smart Stadium
The head-to-head is firmly in favour of the Warriors (16-7). They have won the last fourteen out of fifteen encounters between the two sides, being unbeaten Cbus Super Stadium since 2010. They last fell to the Titans back in round 8 of 2015, when the Titans prevailed 32-28 in Auckland. The Warriors were also the victors in the teams' round 2 encounter earlier this season, 20-8, and will be looking to complete a trifecta of wins against Queensland sides away from home, having beaten the Broncos and Cowboys in the past few weeks.
Their great away record of 7-2 this season is a huge positive coming into the contest and quite rightly they may treat this match as a home game; in addition to their great record on the Gold Coast, a number of expats generally turn up to watch them play there, with a crowd of up to 20,000 expected.
The loss last week against the Knights hasn't deterred Garth Brennan with the only change being Will Matthews replacing Leilani Latu on the bench.
Blake Green is welcomed back which is a big gain for the Warriors, pushing Mason Lino into the reserves. The other huge addition is Tohu Harris returning from knee surgery, slotting into the back-row with Simon Mannering at lock as Adam Blair is suspended until next round for his dangerous contact charge last week. Sam Lisone replaces Tevita Satae on the bench.
|Position||Gold Coast Titans||New Zealand Warriors|
|1||Michael Gordon||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck|
|2||Anthony Don||David Fusitu'a|
|3||Konrad Hurrell||Gerard Beale|
|4||Brenko Lee||Solomone Kata|
|5||Phillip Sami||Ken Maumalo|
|6||Alexander Brimson||Blake Green|
|7||Ashley Taylor||Shaun Johnson|
|8||Jarrod Wallace||James Gavet|
|9||Nathan Peats||Issac Luke|
|10||Ryan James||Agnatius Paasi|
|11||Kevin Proctor||Isaiah Papali'i|
|12||Keegan Hipgrave||Tohu Harris|
|13||Jai Arrow||Simon Mannering|
|14||Mitch Rein||Jazz Tevaga|
|15||Moeaki Fotuika||Sam Lisone|
|16||Jack Stockwell||Joseph Vuna|
|17||Will Matthews||Bunty Afoa|
|18||Leilani Latu||Peta Hiku|
|19||Brendan Elliot||Karl Lawton|
|20||Morgan Boyle||Leivaha Pulu|
|21||Kane Elgey||Mason Lino|
The facts that matter
The Titans are the second-worst team on defense, having conceded over 450 points this season. It doesn't help that they have conceded the most penalties this season in the league (171 for an average of 9 penalties per match). Their error rate is also high with 11 on average per match (fourth) whilst 74 handling errors all told is fifth this season. If completing their sets is difficult, it's no different without the ball, with their average of 32 missed tackles per game (fourth) almost matching the Warriors. What it adds up to is a team struggling for consistency. Unfortunately for the Titans, when it rains, it pours.
Having Jai Arrow back in the starting line-up is a big positive after he limped off after 45 minutes last week against the Knights. It was no surprise to see the Titans fall away with Arrow off the field - he makes a lot of metres in a team which averages under 1,300 metres per week. Alongside Ryan James and Jarrod Wallace, they will need to make some metres and complete their tackles, to give the Warriors back little chance of creating those chances out wide. If they don't, we could see a lot of points scored for the visitors.
Ashley Taylor probably hasn't played to his potential this season, with his performances erring as much as the Titans' season has. When he takes the game by the scruff of the neck, the Titans look a lot better unit. However, sometimes he rests on his laurels a bit, and with his side conceding an average of 25 points per week, it's almost moot if he cannot get anything going. With young AJ Brimson outside him, and the likes of Michael Gordon's excellent support play this season (48, with the Titan's averaging 148 per game; second this season), he can utilise this but needs something from his forwards, to put pressure on a big Warriors' pack who are just as susceptive to missed tackles.
Their defense has been standing up most week, but their average of 19 points per week, similar to the Titans, is where the Warriors will need to focus. Their points differential of 4 needs to improve, especially with the top 8 sides all in the mix for a top-four spot going towards the end of the regular season. Having Blake Green back will give Shaun Johnson more confidence, and with the two of them playing outside each other, may be more than enough to cause the Titans' defense some headaches. With David Fusitu'a having scored seven tries in seven matches against the Titans, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck having run 229 metres last week against the Storm, the Titans will be more forgiving if the two playmakers can get the ball out wide to the fringes.
In order to get to that end of the field, they will have to improve on their handling display from last week, which saw 10 errors conceded. If they can complete better than the 73% from last week and get into the Titans half more often than not on the last tackle, they will fancy their chances, especially with their running metres average of 1,500 per week. But in order to do so, they need to hold onto the ball for the entire set.
The tackling also needs to improve. They tackled for 89% effectiveness last week, but still let through 33 tackles last week, which is their average per game, in a statistic which leads the league. With Tohu Harris back alongside Simon Mannering at lock, this should improve. If they can keep the Titans at bay and stop Ashley Taylor's attack, they will likely prosper.
The Warriors are favourites for this game and rightly so. If they want to consider themselves as top 4 contenders, they really need to put away teams like the Titans, who haven't been consistent enough this season to warrant being a threat to opposition teams each week. A win this week will also more or less cement their place in the top 8 for the first time since 2011, which gives them extra incentive.
They have better backs out wide, make more metres, and if their discipline on (handling) and off (tackle effectiveness) the ball is consistent, they won't let the likes of Jai Arrow and Ashley Taylor get to them. This could well turn out to be a blow out later in the game.
Tip: Warriors by 14