The Titans take on the Bulldogs at Gosford on Sunday in vastly different circumstances than when they last met in round 14.
The Bulldogs were without State of Origin players Brett and Josh Morris, Trent Hodkinson, David Klemmer and Josh Jackson plus injured captain James Graham, and the Titans were missing their rep players Nate Myles (Origin), Greg Bird (suspended) and David Taylor (dropped).
All but Myles are back to do battle on Sunday.
The Titans’ 28-14 victory put them equal with the Dogs on the ladder with both vying for a finals position. Shaun Lane made his debut for the Bulldogs that day but now approaches his ninth appearance as one of the finds of the season.
The Bulldogs now are in eighth positon and needing momentum to run home to the finals while the Titans are out of the reckoning but determined to finish strongly and be a nuisance opponent to finals hopefuls Canterbury, Canberra, St George Illawarra and North Queensland.
And for many of the young Titans players with little NRL experience, like Kane Elgey, Agnatius Paasi, Lachlan Burr, Kierran Moseley and Nene Macdonald, it remains a key period for their development.
“We want to finish with some good victories in the last month of the season and to see particularly our younger players, and we have plenty, continue developing towards successful futures in the NRL,” said Aquis Titans head coach Neil Henry.
“I will certainly be looking for that improvement over the coming weeks, so they can go to an off-season in a positive frame, knowing where they have improved and where they need to improve further.
“The Bulldogs are a big challenge for us. When you’re taking on the biggest pack in the NRL by far we can’t afford to give them too much possession through unforced errors, although we still have to concentrate on moving them around the park as we did successfully in round 14.
“Sam Kasiano, David Klemmer, James Graham, Aidan Tolman, Frank Pritchard, Josh Jackson and Greg Eastwood … and a big kid who is developing quickly in Shaun Lane. They don’t come much bigger, skilful or physical as that package.”
The Titans go into the game with the record of winning the past two games against the Bulldogs, both a Cbus Super Stadium, and the confidence about how an expansive approach worked earlier this season against the Dogs side that is the biggest in NRL history and can manhandle opposition packs with their bulk, mobility and skill.
The Titans have won seven of twelve clashes between the two but Sunday’s challenge is a big one, even with the Bulldogs missing five-eighth Josh Reynolds. His replacement Moses Mbye is a first class performer.
Eddy Pettybourne returns to the Titans side after missing the clash with the Titans and big prop David Hala retains his position on the bench, adding some size to the pack against the monster Dogs.
He admits the challenge for the Titans is to stretch their defensive commitment to the whole 80 minutes after showing it for long periods of recent matches, but switching off at crucial times.
“The Dogs are on fire and have a big pack, playing good footy coming to the finals,” Pettybourne said. “They are a big test for us. We have to stop their big men from getting on the front foot because if they do, they are hard to stop.
“Something we have been lacking is playing the full 80 minutes. Often we play a good first 40 minutes but slacken off and pick up at the end, or we drop intensity at the end of games. We have to make sure we focus for the full 80.”
HEAD TO HEAD
Played 12: Titans 7, Bulldogs 5.
At Central Coast Stadium: None played.
THIS SEASON: Titans d. Bulldogs 28-14 (rd 14) at Cbus Super Stadium.
TRIES SCORED: Bulldogs 75, Titans 61.
TRIES CONCEDED: Bulldogs 72, Titans 91.
COMPLETION RATES: Bulldogs 76%, Titans 72%.
GOALKICKING: Titans 79%, Bulldogs 68%.
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Jeff Younis and Belinda Sleeman. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel 9 (live 4pm).
The teams:TITANS: Josh Hoffman, David Mead, James Roberts, Nene Macdonald, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Aidan Sezer, Kane Elgey, Luke Douglas, Beau Falloon, Eddy Pettybourne, Ryan James, Agnatius Paasi, Greg Bird. Interchange: David Taylor, David Hala, Matt White, Daniel Mortimer, Lachlan Burr, Kierran Moseley.
BULLDOGS: Brett Morris, Curtis Rona, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, Sam Perrett, Moses Mbye, Trent Hodkinson, Aidan Tolman, Michael Lichaa, James Graham (capt), Josh Jackson, Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: Sam Kasiano, Shaun Lane, David Klemmer, Tim Browne, Lloyd Perrett, Danny Fualalo.