The Aquis Titans forwards know they have to lift their effort 10 per cent to cover for the suspended Greg Bird against St George Illawarra at Cbus Super Stadium today – but being able to call on the experienced Eddy Pettybourne shows what good depth the squad has.
Pettybourne is unlucky not to have been in the 17 but has missed out to fellow Hair Bair Leivaha Pulu since suffering a corked thigh in the season opener against the Knights. His only appearance since was when he came off the bench against Brisbane in round 5.
He becomes a key man today though with his aggression and experience off the bench vital as the Titans aim to end a two-match winning run and sneak back into the top eight with a win against the Dragons.
“We’re lucky to have someone with Eddy’s experience to come into the side and his form has been good in the two games he has played for us, although it was unfortunate he played only 17 minutes against the Knights with the injury,” said coach Neil Henry.
It shows the spread of experience too throughout the pack with Pettybourne joining six other Titans forwards who have played over 100 NRL games, plus Ryan James, Agnatius Paasi and Pulu who are quickly emerging as bright young forwards.
The other good news for the Titans is that Tyrone Roberts trained well this week and is almost certain to be a surprise starter, reuniting with Ash Harrison in the halves.
Cameron Cullen’s impressive debut against the Sharks, and the fact he goes back to Burleigh Bears and will play alongside Lachlan Burr, Nathan Davis (who returned from injury last weekend and scored two tries) and Nathaniel Peteru who returns from 10 weeks out with a knee injury suffered in the Auckland Nines, is another endorsement of the Titans’ young depth.
Neil Henry’s squad have disregarded criticism of the Dragons who have conceded 62 points to nil against last year’s grand finalists in the past two matches and are expected a tough hit-out against a team that has plenty of strike-power.
Fullback Josh Dugan looms as a major threat and his form has been impressive despite the Dragon’s poor run in the past month. With Benji Marshall being ruled out with a hamstring injury the Dragons could still call on former Raiders half Josh McCrone, who has played over 130 NRL games, as his replacement.
“The Dragons are an underrated side and what they do have without doubt is a number of players who are proven at the top level,” Henry says.
“We have to stay focussed defensively, we were erratic at times in recent weeks and some good efforts for periods.
“This is an important game for both teams; we’re both facing the prospect of a third straight loss or victory which could put us back in the top eight. But we can’t over focus on that.”
Daniel Mortimer goes into the game having recovered from a bout of concussion and a head wound that saw him unable to complete the game against the Sharks. He will wear a headgear which will make him not just a clone of the similarly built Nathan Friend but poses the question – when was the last time both hookers in a team wore a headgear?
Titans (9th) v Dragons (14th)
KICK-OFF: 3pm at Cbus Super Stadium
Referees: Gavin Badger and Chris Butler
TV/Radio: Fox Sports, ABC and Triple M
HEAD TO HEAD
Played 1: Dragons 10 wins, Titans 5.
At Cbus Super Stadium: Played 7 – Dragons 4 wins, Titans 3.
Completions: Titans 78%, Dragons 72%
Tries scored: Titans 23, Dragons 6
Tries conceded: Titans 24, Dragons 21
Goalkicking: Titans 88%, Dragons 73%
Past 5 results:
2015 – Titans 28-26 at Cbus Super Stadium,
2014 – Dragons 34-6 at WIN Jubilee, Dragons 19-18 at Cbus Super
2013 – Titans 15-14 at Skilled Park
2012 – Dragons 8-6 at WIN Stadium (Wollongong)
Aquis Titans: Will Zillman (capt), Anthony Don, Josh Hoffman, Nene Macdonald, David Mead, Tyrone Roberts/Cameron Cullen, Ash Taylor, David Shillington, Nathan Friend (capt), Ryan James, Zeb Taia, Chris McQueen, Luke Douglas, Leivaha Pulu, Agnatius Paasi, Daniel Mortimer, Eddy Pettybourne.
Dragons: Josh Dugan, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Euan Aitken, Tim Lafai, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop (capt), Josh McCrone, Leeson Ah Mau, Mitch Rein, Russell Packer, Tyson Frizell, Joel Thompson, Jack de Belin. Interchange: Mike Cooper, Will Matthews, Dunamis Lui, Siliva Halivi.