PREVIEW: Titans v Eels
The Titans are under no illusions about the challenge they face at Pirtek Stadium against the Eels today. But they go there knowing there has been just a fine line between having one victory from five games this season and sitting near the top of the ladder.
And that variable has been holding their nerve with the ball at the money-end of the games.
And that has been the key to the preparation for this match: keeping composed, believing in each other and the game plan and that opportunities will come if they stay in the grind until the last minute.
The Eels have run a little hot and cold this season but home victories against NRL benchmark team South Sydney and a first-round 80 minute stranglehold of Manly in the have provided evidence of how dangerous a team they can be.
And their home record is impressive since their rebirth under coach Brad Arthur with just two losses from their past 14 games at Pirtek Stadium.
Arthur told his side they went into their shells too much against Wests Tigers on Easter Monday so we can expect some ball movement. And he has encouraged Anthony Watmough to take the pressure off himself and enjoy the Eels style and not his own. Both those statements spell danger.
Watmough’s NSW teammate Greg Bird know what challenge he has to curb his opposing back-rower’ influence on the game and match his aggression, and it has set the scene for a game-defining duel.
“He's been leading them, and leading them strongly," Bird told AAP this week.
“I'm definitely looking forward to taking on ‘Choc’; he's a good mate of mine and I think you always give that little bit extra when you're playing against your mates.
“You respect them, but you know what's coming because you've seen them do it for years - you've just got to stop it.”
A key to the Titans’ performance will be how they can set a platform in the opening quarter. They did everything right in the first 20 minutes against the Broncos but came up with no points and then, in a blink of an eye while the Broncos had some good fortune, it was 18-0 Brisbane. Against Penrith they dominated early but had two tries disallowed and were behind 8-0 at half-time and ended up losing 40-0.
In fact the Titans have scored only two tries before the 20th minute this season – against the Tigers and Knights – yet matched their opponents in general play. However it has been the last 10 minutes when in every match except the Panthers the game has been up for grabs, and only against the Sharks – on the back of a James Roberts’ intercept try – did Gold Coast take home the spoils.
Yet so many signs have been encouraging: Ryan James’ 80-minute efforts on the left edge, Aidan Sezer’s kicking game and controlling play; the go-forward of newcomers Agnatius Paasi and Eddy Pettybourne, David Mead’s tireless involvement from the right wing, Bird’s form, Kierran Moseley’s gradual growth in confidence and spark, the solidarity of props Luke Douglas and Nate Myles in the middle and young half Kane Elgey’s involvement as a rookie playmaker.
One aspect the Titans need to improve is certainly being more direct with their attack has been a little lateral in recent weeks, and after completing the first nine of 10 sets in both halves against the Broncos, ball control dropped off in the crunch plays.
“We know where we have to improve and hopefully we can do that against an Eels side that is always hard to beat at home,” said coach Neil Henry.
“They are on a short turnaround after playing Wests Tigers on Monday but they have been very good at home this year. Chris Sandow has been in outstanding form for them and is hard to coach against and they have general class at the back in Will Hopoate, while Corey Norman is a real threat at five-eighth and they have a couple of exciting and powerful young forwards in Manu Ma'u and Tepai Moeroa. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
However, the Titans’ form has been better than what their ladder position reflects too. It might just be a cracker.
Surprisingly, the Titans have travelled to Parramatta only twice since 2007 for a win and a loss and have won seven of 11 games between the clubs, including three of the past four.
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 – Titans 7, Eels 4.
AT PIRTEK STADIUM: Played 2 – Titans 1, Eels 1.
COMPLETION RATES 2015: Eels 71%, Titans 66%.
TRIES SCORED: Eels 19, Titans 13.
TRIES CONCEDED: Eels 20, Titans 21.
GOALKICKING: Titans 86%, Eels 67%.
BEST LINE-BREAKERS: Eels – Radrada (5); Titans – Roberts and Mead (2 each).
Referees: Henry Perenara and Gavin Reynolds. Touch judges: Jeff Younis and Lawrence McDonell. Video referees: Matt Cecchin and Luke Phillips.
Kick-off: 3pm (Fox Sports, Live).
TITANS: Hoffman, Don, Roberts, Zillman, Mead, Sezer, Elgey, Douglas, Moseley, Myles (capt), James, Taylor, Bird. Interchange: Pettybourne, Paasi, Simpkins, Burr, White.
EELS: Hopoate, Faraimo, Morgan, Folau, Robinson, Norman, Sandow, Lussick, Peats, Mannah, Ma’u, Moeroa, Watmough. Interchange: De Gois, Paulo, Wicks, Gower.