The competition ladder and today’s date say it all.
Sure, there has been the predictable ‘DCE heads to enemy territory’ build-up and there could be a frosty crowd reception and not just because of an unusually cold Monday night’s atmosphere.
But the cold facts of tonight’s Titans-Sea Eagles clash is that there are nine rounds remaining, and the Aquis Titans are four competition points behind eight-placed Canterbury Bulldogs (20 points) with the Sea Eagles, a final-eight team for 10 years straight, two points further behind with their season even more on the line.
“Both teams know how important the match is and it’s a big game in the context of our season,” said Titans coach Neil Henry.
“There are nine games left and we need to get on a run if we want to play finals footy; we are probably looking at six wins being needed to achieve that.
“We are up against a side that has gained a bit of momentum on the back of two wins in their last three games and having welcomed back a few key players.
“With Kieran Foran and Jamie Lyon back from injury in the past couple of weeks they now have their strongest backline available, which is certainly one of the best in the NRL.
“Add Brett Stuart at the back, Steve Matai who is in excellent form at left centre, two dangerous wingers in young Tom Trbojevic and Jorge Taufua and Daly Cherry Evans in the halves and we’re going to have to be defensively on our game top contain them.”
Cherry Evans, who will be smarting from his demotion from the Queensland side, and Foran – with his Eels contract drama behind him – are certainly the danger men and their impact will have to be minimised.
Manly are a side that are happy to chance their arm from long range rather than methodically grind up the field to set moves neat the tryline and that’s what makes them hard to handle. With Foran and Cherry Evans either side of the ruck, composure and class in centres Jamie Lyon – playing his 200th game for the club – and in-form Steve Matai and 156-try campaigner Brett Stewart at the back, the Titans defence will have to be on guard.
Ryan James makes a welcomed return after missing the 20-10 loss to Sydney Roosters before the bye and with Agnatius Paasi impressing as an edge back-rower and Dave Taylor coming off the bench, the Titans can hopefully pose some questions if their forwards can stand up to the physical Eagles’ six.
James Roberts (pictured), in great form at right centre and two tries short of David Mead’s 2011 club record 16 tries in a season, will face a tough test against the aggressive Matai in one of several key match-ups tonight. The raw-talent of Nene Macdonald, in his 14th NRL appearance, taking on Lyon in his 270th is another.
But there are other Manly dangers in the offloading ability of Feleti Mateo who has hit some good form, the tough Jake Trbojevic and evergreen Willie Mason.
“They’ve always been a team that, if you allow them to get into their groove, play a tough brand of footy and you know you’re in a match,” said Henry. “But now they have their backline strike-power back they are playing with a lot of confidence too, they are going to be hard to beat.”
There is no under-20s curtain-raiser tonight. Gates open at 6pm with kick-off 7pm.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played 13; Sea Eagles 8, Titans 5.
At Cbus Super Stadium Played 7; Sea Eagles 4, Titans 3.
TRIES SCORED: Titans 54, Sea Eagles 44.
TRIES CONCEDED: Titans 63, Sea Eagles 58.
COMPLETION RATES: Titans 71%, Sea Eagles 75%.
GOALKICKING: Titans 76%, Sea Eagles 66%.
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges: Clayton Sharpe and Chris Butler; Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm
TITANS: Mead, Don, Roberts, Macdonald, Gordon, Hoffman, Mortimer, Douglas, Redman, Myles (capt), James, Paasi, Pettybourne. Interchange: Taylor, White, Burr, Robinson, Ridge.
SEA EAGLES: Stewart, Taufua, Lyon (capt), Matai, T. Trbojevic, Foran, Cherry Evans, J. Trbojevic, Ballin, Mason, Mateo, Symonds, Lui. Interchange: L. Burgess, Starling, Horo, Sao, Hodges.