Schick Hydro Preview: Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels
Cbus Super Stadium
Two clubs who have had dramas away from the field meet this week, with things beginning to head in a positive direction for both outfits, particularly the improving Gold Coast side.
Eighteen months ago the Titans were struggling with virtually no sponsors and had to be taken over by the NRL. Now this week the Eels board has been replaced by a state government appointed administrator.
If further proof was needed that the front office is where the success of a football team stems from the Titans now boast a full book of sponsors, some exciting player signings and a place in the top eight that even the most ardent of fan must have considered fanciful at the start of the season.
After their team won five of their first seven games Eels fans were recalling the glory days of the mid to late 1980s but their season has since combusted in the most spectacular of fashions with their salary cap mismanagement compounded by off-field incidents involving key players.
Five-eighth Corey Norman is again absent this week, New South Wales Origin star Michael Jennings is sidelined through injury, Clinton Gutherson gets a second crack at five-eighth and Manu Ma'u has been named to play in the centres.
How Brad Arthur has kept the playing group performing to the standard that he has is all but a rugby league miracle.
The Titans haven't entered the final six weeks of the season in such a lofty position on the ladder since 2009 when they finished just one win behind minor premiers St George Illawarra and with three home games in succession have a golden chance to solidify a long-awaited finals berth.
A one-week suspension to Greg Bird sees Agnatius Paasi promoted to the starting team with Nathaniel Peteru coming onto the bench in the only change to the team that accounted for the Dragons 32-12 last week.
Players from all incarnations of the Gold Coast teams over the years will form a guard of honour for the Titans players when they run out and both the Titans and Eels will wear the Men of League socks.
This game is the feature of a double-header that also includes the annual women's interstate clash between Queensland and New South Wales with the Maroons out to continue their 17-year stranglehold on the contest from 3pm.
Watch out Titans: He may not have the stature of Semi Radradra but in his six games in the top grade Bevan French has shown an eerily similar try-scoring strike rate. A sensation at the Auckland Nines in February, the 20-year-old has scored nine tries in just six NRL games this season having been elevated to the top grade due to the Eels' injury toll. No matter the age it is impossible to keep class under wraps and the fleet-footed kid from Tingha has shown an instant ability to meet the demands of the NRL. He scored a try against the Titans when they met in Round 14 and showed again last week against the Panthers that he needs only the hint of an opportunity to convert it into four points.
Watch out Eels: If the Eels have got the Semi Trailer – albeit not this week – the Titans are warming up the Mac Truck in giant winger Nene Macdonald. Transformed since his starring role for the Kumuls in the Pacific Test in May, Macdonald showed just how devastating he can be with two tries, 236 running metres and five tackle busts against the Dragons last week. When these two teams met six weeks ago Macdonald again busted through the 200-metre mark and will fancy his chances in an aerial contest against opposite number Bevan French. Showing a great ability to start the Titans' sets off on the right foot and finish them off at the other end, Macdonald is heading in the right direction to make good on his boundless potential.
Key match-up: Konrad Hurrell v Manu Ma'u. Key? Perhaps not, but there's little doubt this will be the most brutally captivating clash of the contest. Playing just his second game for the Titans last Friday against St George Illawarra Hurrell displayed the type of destructiveness that made him a fan favourite at the Warriors, even if he was short of a gallop or two. With the Eels' stocks of outside backs decimated Ma'u has been forced to fill in at centre and has proved to be a handful wider out, running for 174 metres and making five tackle busts against the Panthers. For once Hurrell might be best advised to use sleight of hand rather than trying to run over the top of Ma'u.
History: Played 14; Titans 9, Eels 5. The Eels went some way to rectifying their poor record against the Titans with a 19-14 victory in Darwin six weeks ago but their record at Robina reads a worrying two wins from seven previous visits. Parramatta's first premiership game on the Gold Coast was against the Giants in their inaugural season in 1988 where the home side registered one of their four wins for the season, 13-10. Deposed Eels chairman Steve Sharp packed down in the second row for Parramatta that day while the referee was current Titans CEO Graham Annesley.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Review Officials: Byran Norrie and Jared Maxwell; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 5pm.
How we see it: As the Titans emerged as a genuine top eight contender last week any hope of an improbable finals charge by the Eels seemed to be doused in the second half against Penrith last Sunday. The Eels had no right to ever lead that game and when the pressure was applied by the Panthers early in the second half they simply couldn't go with them. Expect Parramatta to be brave again but if the Titans can start well the mental challenge will become too great for the visitors. Titans by 10 points.
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This preview first appeared on nrl.com.au