THIS is the Titans’ biggest test of 2015 so far.
Firstly there is challenge of containing the occasion and the historic element when the team runs out to a Mt Smart Stadium crowd that will be spurred by the Gallipoli 100-year anniversary and the pre-match build-up.
This is a Titans side that has no less than six players who aren’t NRL seasoned – Kane Elgey, Lachlan Burr, James Roberts, Matt Robinson, Anthony Don and Kierran Moseley have played between four and 34 NRL appearances. Yet there are hard heads and cool heads like Nate Myles, Greg Bird, William Zillman, Josh Hoffman and Aidan Sezer who lead them by example.
And there is the record which shows the Warriors have won the past eight clashes between the two, including a 42-0 victory last season in Auckland.
But the manner in which the Titans have shut out Parramatta and Penrith in the past fortnight, winning the second halves by a total of 68-0, has given the team new confidence and impetus.
They know it is the start to tomorrow’s game however, more than the finish against a team that breeds on its early momentum, that will be important.
While the Titans have won three of their past four clashes, the Warriors have lost three out of four. It will make them only more determined, inspired by a large crowd they’ll want to represent in true ANZAC spirit, to start the game well and ‘dig in’ for each other.
Lachlan Burr becomes a key player for the Titans. With fellow back-rowers Dave Taylor and Ryan Simpkins missing, he gets the opportunity to start the match after performances in the past fortnight that have seen his confidence and contributions grow.
He came to the club after limited opportunities with the Bulldogs but inarguable talent and this will be his biggest test against a physical Warriors outfit.
And that leaves Matt Robinson with the task of making an impact off the bench, with Eddy Pettybourne.
The Warriors’ danger men are obvious. Robinson’s former under-20s teammate Shaun Johnson is the Golden Boot winner of 2015 who has begun the season well. Manu Vatuvei’s momentum has to be cut down when he looks to bring the ball out of the Warriors’ end. Thomas Leuluai has been clever out of dummy half and Ryan Hoffman has added class and a directness to their attack. And Ben Matulino is one of the most dangerous second-phase creators in the NRL with his ability to offload.
Coach Neil Henry is looking for fewer penalties, more intensity early, and a confidence that patience will tell in the last 20 minutes if his side sticks to its task and portrays some ANZAC spirit in the face of what will be a vocal crowd and emotional experience.
Skipper Nate Myles trained well in the final session at Trust Stadium yesterday and will take his place, and his leadership will be integral if the Titans are to win their third straight victory and make the statement that they are genuine finals contenders.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played 16, Warriors 10, Gold Coast 6.
At Mt Smart: Played 7, Warriors 5, Gold Coast 2.
TRIES SCORED: Warriors 26, Titans 25.
TRIES CONCEDED: Titans 25, Warriors 26.
COMPLETION RATES: Warriors 70%, Titans 68%.
GOALKICKING: Titans 82%, Warriors 72%.
Last 5 clashes: 2014 – WARRIORS d. GOLD COAST 24-16 at Cbus Super Stadium; 2013 – WARRIORS d. GOLD COAST 24-22 at Skilled Park; WARRIORS d. GOLD COAST 25-24 at Mt Smart Stadium; 2012 – WARRIORS d. GOLD COAST 32-14 at Skilled Park; WARRIORS d. GOLD COAST 26-6 at Mt Smart Stadium.
WARRIORS: Sam Tomkins (knee) – Rd 9; Ngani Laumape (knee) – indefinite; Ben Henry (knee) – season.
GOLD COAST: Daniel Mortimer (wrist)/Christian Hazard (ankle)/David Taylor (suspended, 1 week.)/Agnatius Passi (foot) – Rd 9; Ben Ridge
(pectoral) – Rd 10-12; Caleb Binge (knee)/Leva Li (knee) –indefinite.
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Morris. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: David Ryan and Anthony Elliot. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Sky Sport – Live from 1.30pm NZT.
TITANS: Josh Hoffman, Anthony Don, James Roberts, William Zillman, David Mead, Aidan Sezer, Kane Elgey, Luke Douglas, Beau Falloon, Nate Myles (capt), Ryan James, Lachlan Burr, Greg Bird. Interchange: Matt White, Eddy Pettybourne, Matt Robinson, Kierran Moseley, Mark Ioane.
WARRIORS: Tuimoala Lolohea, Jonathan Wright, David Fusitua, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lilyman, Thomas Leuluia, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering. Interchange: Nathan Friend, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Sam Lisone, Sam Rapira, Dominique Peyroux.