Commonwealth Games fever is hitting the Gold Coast, so this means the Gold Coast Titans take their clash against the St George Illawarra Dragons on the road to Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba.
Last round was a different feeling for each of the fans of these two teams. While the Dragons could celebrate a victory over their local rivals, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks; the Titans were blown off the park by an electric New Zealand Warriors side.
It was clear the Gold Coast side were missing their star halfback, Ash Taylor, against the Warriors but will be buoyed with his return this week meaning Bryce Cartwright can shift back to the forwards. Taylor is a local product of Toowoomba and there will be a big reception for one of their locals returning on the big stage.
The Dragons have started another season strongly and head into this fixture with a 2-0 record. However, St George fans will know Premierships aren't won in March after starting the 2017 season strongly before fading badly and missing out on the Finals in the final round.
Round 23, 2017: St George Illawarra Dragons def. Gold Coast Titans 42-16.
Round 17, 2017: Gold Coast Titans def. St George Illawarra Dragons 20-10.
Round 19, 2016: Gold Coast Titans def. St George Illawarra Dragons 32-12.
Round 7, 2016: St George Illawarra Dragons def. Gold Coast Titans 19-14.
Round 25, 2015: Gold Coast Titans def. St George Illawarra Dragons 28-26.
The last time these two teams met it was late in the season and the Dragons were desperate to turn their form around and push for a finals spot. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Titans had been beaten 56-0 at home against their Queensland rivals, the Brisbane Broncos.
On that day it was a Kurt Mann masterclass that split the Titans apart leading to doubles to both Jason Nightingale and Cameron McInnes. For this fixture, Mann has been replaced by Ben Hunt and he will be hoping to put on a similar performance to ensure his name remains in the conversation for the free halves positions in the Maroons side.
Overall, the two teams have met on 19 occasions with the Dragons having an edge with 12 victories to the Titans 7 despite the recent meetings being slightly even.
|Gold Coast Titans||St George Illawarra Dragons|
|1||Michael Gordon||Matt Dufty|
|2||Anthony Don||Nene MacDonald|
|3||Dale Copley||Euan Aitken|
|4||Konrad Hurrell||Tim Lafai|
|5||Phillip Sami||Jason Nightingale|
|6||Kane Elgey||Gareth Widdop|
|7||Ash Taylor||Ben Hunt|
|8||Jai Arrow||James Graham|
|9||Nathan Peats||Cameron McInnes|
|10||Leilani Latu||Paul Vaughan|
|11||Kevin Proctor||Tyson Frizell|
|12||Ryan James||Tariq Sims|
|13||Bryce Cartwright||Jack de Belin|
|14||Mitch Rein||Luciano Leilua|
|15||Will Matthews||Kurt Mann|
|16||Morgan Boyle||Leeson Ah Mau|
|17||Jarrod Wallace||Hame Sele|
|18||Keegan Hipgrave||Jeremy Latimore|
|19||Joe Greenwood||Zachary Lomax|
|20||AJ Brimson||Reece Robson|
|21||Tyronne Roberts-Davis||Blake Lawrie|
The facts that matter
Gold Coast Titans
Prior to the season starting one of the best minds in the game, Matthew Johns, made the call that at some stage Ash Taylor would be the best player in the game. While Taylor has shown outstanding ability close to the line with countless try-assists last season, it is a big pressure to put on a young kid behind a relatively inexperienced forward pack. In saying that, the best players should be able to bring those players to the next level and with Kane Elgey not realising his true potential yet, the weight of the Gold Coast falls on Taylor.
Every game is a contest against your opposite number but this clash between Taylor and Dragons recruit, Ben Hunt, will be extra juicy. Both halfbacks came through the Broncos system and both were regarded as long-term prospects by the club. However, as it has been highly publicised the Broncos have allowed both to leave in the past few years in favour of Anthony Milford so both will hope to prove what they missed out on and push to play for the halves position in the Queensland State of Origin team.
If the Taylor and the Titans want any hope of winning this clash then they need to sort out their defence. In the opening two games they have missed an astounding 91 tackles. Those sorts of numbers won't win you any games and head coach Garth Brennan would have stressed the importance this week to turn that stat around against a skillful Dragons outfit.
St George Illawarra Dragons
There were concerns from the wider rugby league media that the Dragons may struggle to start the season strongly with so many changes to their roster over the off-season. This belief was justified when they showed indifferent trial form against Hull and in the Charity Shield against the Rabbitohs. Despite the average form, there looked to be no cobwebs or lack of cohesion when they wiped the Broncos off the park in round one.
One of the new recruits along with Ben Hunt is James Graham. No matter who you ask, all those close to Graham highlight the positive attributes he brings to a dressing room and an overall culture around a club. He led the Bulldogs through various times of success and struggle but was shown the door at the back end of last season. Despite some concerns giving him a three-year contract at his age due to the amount of football he has played, in the opening two rounds he has been excellent. Along with Paul Vaughan, Graham will hope to get on top of the less-experienced Jai Arrow and Leilani Latu.
As shown above the Titans have missed 91 tackles in the opening two rounds which doesn't bode well when their opponents St George have scored 54 points in the same time. Only behind Manly and the Raiders, the Dragons have shown class in attack on the back of their captain Gareth Widdop. Look for Widdop to combine with former Titan Nene Macdonald in this game as the winger looks to create another highlight reel moment after his phenomenal try last weekend.
Garth Brennan would be starting to get desperate to get his first win out of the way in the NRL. The return of Jarrod Wallace from suspension will help his cause, as will Ash Taylor.
For the Dragons, they will look to continue their hot start to the season. The forward pack of the Dragons looks far more capable of getting on top of their opponent in this one and this will allow the halves to do their magic again this week. Look for this one to be a high scoring one. Dragons by 10.