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MATCH PREVIEW: Dragons v Titans

PeatsMcInnes_Lead

The canvas is a cold and lonely place.

It tells you in no uncertain terms that you have been physically beaten and challenges your mind to dare prove it wrong.

To pull yourself to your feet when all common sense suggests you shouldn't and stand to fight on.

As Sylvester Stallone so eloquently put it in Rocky Balboa, "It ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward."

In a week where both coaches, Paul McGregor and Neil Henry, have taken some low blows of their own they could do worse than borrow a line from Sly to try and bring their players back from the brink.

The manner of last weekend's defeats were vastly different but equally crushing in their own way. St George Illawarra seemed to have taken another step towards September football when they led the Rabbitohs by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to go only for another SCG miracle to unfold for the red and green.

The Titans on the other hand kept the Broncos at bay for 23 minutes before capitulating horribly to concede almost a point a minute for the final 57 minutes, the 54-0 loss leading to a fallout that saw Henry's position, those of investors and even the game's future on the Gold Coast all brought into question.

Sitting one win outside the top eight there is still hope for the Dragons who play the Broncos, Panthers and Bulldogs in the final three weeks while the Titans' playing group has to prove to their members and potential sponsors that there remains a united spirit amongst the playing group.

The only major change for the Dragons is Tyson Frizell being named in the starting side while for the Titans both Ashley Taylor (knee) and Kevin Proctor (hamstring) remain in some doubt with Agnatius Paasi ruled out and youngsters Keegan Hipgrave and Phillip Sami named on the extended bench.

Why the Dragons can win: St George Illawarra's wonderful start to the season that had them pegged as playoff certainties was built upon the dominance of their forward pack and although they are missing Russell Packer this week they still have a decided advantage. The Titans forwards were bullied out of it by the Broncos and it's hard to see them containing the likes of Vaughan, Frizell, de Belin, Thompson and Ah Mau for 80 minutes. The Dragons rank first in the NRL for average metres gained per game with 1,706 while the Titans are languishing in 15th position for that statistic with just 1,353m per game. If those stats stack up on Saturday it will be a Dragons victory, and a convincing one at that.

Why the Titans can win: It often defies rhyme and reason but the 'bounce-back' phenomenon is a very real one in the NRL. If a team cops an absolute flogging one week you can be sure they will at least start the next week's contest with plenty of intensity and if that translates to points and some confidence they can all of a sudden be hard to stop. The Titans had a number of good chances to score early against the Broncos but were turned away time and again; if they can breach the Dragons' defence early on a team that ranks seventh for tries scored this year, might exact some revenge of their own.

The history: Played 17; Dragons 11, Titans 6. The Titans' first opponents in the Telstra Premiership back in 2007, the Dragons got the rivalry off to a winning start with a 20-18 win at Suncorp Stadium but have lost three of their past four clashes with Gold Coast. Last year's 32-12 win was the Titans' third from four visits to UOW Jubilee Oval, their only loss a 34-6 hiding in Round 24, 2014.

Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski. Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Nick Morel. Review Official: Bryan Norrie. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Fox League – Live from 2.30pm

NRL.com predicts: Given the consistency of their play for the majority of the year Dragons fans deserve to see their team stay in finals contention for at least one more week. There's a case to be made that they were the better side in both recent losses to the Raiders and Rabbitohs but all that matters after 26 weeks is how many times you have banked two competition points over the course of the season. They'll get two more here against a vastly improved Titans team that will struggle to score points again. Dragons by 14 points.  

This article first appeared on NRL.com