The iSelect Titans are determined to rise to the occasion in front of a packed-house at Cbus Super Stadium tonight, and will ignore history, statistics and even the tipsters when they take on the Brisbane Broncos as great expectation emerges around the local derby.
The Titans are on top of the ladder for the first time since round 10 in 2008, their second season, and now one has held that position with a negative for and against percentage since Canterbury in 1953.
The Titans have won four of 15 clashes between the two teams and only one of the past eight, but have been victorious in three of the seven games at Robina.
The Titans’ minus 9 differential (the Broncos’ is plus-15) is due entirely to the 42-12 blow-out against Wests Tigers in oppressive heat, after a virus had gone through the team, in round two.
Outside of that below par performance, the feature of the Titans’ play has been a real willingness and aggressiveness in defence and that will he required against the Broncos tonight whose only losses were a soul-destroying 30-26 loss to 2013 premiers Sydney Roosters in round three when the Roosters scored two converted tries in the last three minutes, and last Friday night they were beaten by a free-flowing Eels 25-18.
Our boys don’t rate well on the stats charts for penalties (15 a game) and completion rates (67.5 percent) and line-breaks (2.6 per game) – stats courtesy of Courier Mail’s Todd Balym today. But what statistics don’t measure are defensive attitude, the confidence that is growing in the side and what coach John Cartwright depicts as a growing maturity in his team.
Considering the side has used three five-eighths in Aiden Sezer (three games), Ashley Harrison (one) and Maurice Blair (one) in the first five rounds and have had changes at fullback (William Zillman two and a half games) and David Mead (two and a half), it’s not unexpected that the attack has not been as sharp as Cartwright would like.
However there were real signs in Melbourne with five tries scored, two from smart kicks, one from a brilliantly anticipated and executed Albert Kelly intercept, one from a quick hands backline movement and Mark Minichiello’s blockbusting individual try from 15 metres.
Some match ups tonight could be spectacular, starting with Titans forward leaders Nate Myles and Greg Bird clashing with their Kangaroo teammates Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday; all four are certainly big-match performers.
Albert Kelly and his halfback opponent Ben Hunt, who have both shown wonderful individual talent for years but took some time to establish themselves in the NRL, can provide the individual brilliance to break open a game. Ben Barba could be on the verge of something special with his new team but David Mead has been outstanding while deputising at fullback for the ever-consistent William Zillman.
Kevin Gordon, playing his 100th NRL game for the Titans, is back in form and is brilliant in the air, as is Broncos’ Daniel Vidot. And Broncos lock Matt Gillett has been in fabulous form, but the work Ashley Harrison has not been overlooked by teammates and he’ll be up for a challenge against his first club after announcing his pending retirement this week – a massive incentive for his teammates to see him bow out with finals football.
Then we have Justin Hodges who made an early return from injury against Parramatta last Friday night, taking on Blair who moves to left centre after playing right centre and five-eighth this season. And David Taylor goes up against the side where his career began in 2006 a month before he had turned 18.
The bench will play a big part in tonight’s result with both sides well equipped. The Broncos have an international prop in Ben Hannant, a seasoned tough front-rower in Martin Kennedy, a grand final winner on Todd Lowrie and an up-and-comer in Corey Oates. The Titans also have a Test-experienced prop in Luke Bailey, consistently reliable Matt White, a 240-game performer in Minichiello and Paul Carter, who has impressed in his five games in the NRL.
The opportunity is there for the Titans to make a real statement in front of a big home crowd, but so too can the Broncos who can pay us boys on the ladder. It will be a blockbuster!
TITANS: David Mead, Kevin Gordon, Maurice Blair, Brad Takairangi, Anthony Don, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly, Luke Douglas, Beau Falloon, Nate Myles (capt), Greg Bird (capt), David Taylor, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Matthew White, Luke Bailey, Mark Minichiello, Paul Carter.
BRONCOS: Ben Barba, Daniel Vidot, Jack Reed, Justin Hodges (capt), Dale Copley, Josh Hoffman, Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Corey Parker (capt), Alex Glenn, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett. Interchange: Martin Kennedy, Todd Lowrie, Ben Hannant, Corey Oates.