Round 1: Titans v Raiders preview
New-look Titans prepare for Raiders with a point to prove
The changes at the Gold Coast over the 2018 off-season have been well documented. Most notably, there is a new coach on the Glitter Strip with former Panthers NSW Cup mentor Garth Brennan taking the reins in the new year. Brennan's recruitment drive over the summer was extensive, with Penrith acquaintances Bryce Cartwright, Leilani Latu and Mitch Rein all heading up north in 2018. Jai Arrow, Michael Gordon and Will Matthews also make their respective debuts for the Gold Coast in Sunday night's clash against Canberra. The Titans were disappointing in their pre-season games, suffering 38-10 and 20-14 defeats to the Broncos and Warriors respectively. With so many new names, it may take a while for Brennan's team to discover consistency. As a result, much responsibility falls on the shoulders of halves pairing Kane Elgey and Ash Taylor who are tasked with guiding the new-look Titans side around the park. While the latter is more than capable of doing so, it remains to be seen whether Elgey is the right complement for Taylor after struggling for consistency after an injury-impacted last couple of years.
Meanwhile, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart will be hoping that his side can make a statement on Sunday night as they attempt to overcome the loss of their most important player. Josh Hodgson finished 2017 with a club-high nine try-assists and his quick delivery out of dummy-half and kicking game were invaluable. Warriors recruit Sivila Havili has been given the first shot at the England International's No. 9 jersey yet it is doubtful he will be able to provide the same direction and creativity that Hodgson did in previous years. As such, it is imperative that new halves pairing Aidan Sezer and Sam Williams take control of their side's attack in their regular hooker's absence. In their only pre-season trial, a last-gasp try saw the Raiders fall to the Bulldogs 16-12.
The Raiders belted the Titans 42-16 in their Round 6 encounter at GIO Stadium last year.
Who to watch: For the home side, Bryce Cartwright has finally been granted his wish to play in the No. 13 jumper by coach Brennan. This should bring the best out of the former Panther as he is most dangerous when not restricted to one side of the park and instead free to roam. Look for Cartwright to emulate the style of play exhibited by former teammate Trent Merrin, who paired a strong work ethic in defence with style and flair in attack. Cartwright certainly has the ability to offload and spark the Gold Coast's attack, yet he will need to first ensure he is capable of fulfilling the intense workload associated with the lock position.
The injection of former five-eighth Blake Austin off the bench could prove a masterstroke by coach Ricky Stuart. Austin possesses one of the most dangerous running games in the competition. By introducing Austin when the opposition defence is tiring, the new Canberra utility could prove a handful for the Gold Coast's big men given his elusive footwork.
My tip: The Raiders have known that they would be without their influential hooker for a while. Experts have been publicly questioning whether Canberra are still a threat without him… and I am certain that coach Ricky Stuart will have his side motivated to prove them wrong on Sunday night. Raiders by 10.
Gold Coast Titans Form Guide
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Canberra Raiders Form Guide
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