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Key players return as the Titans brace for the undefeated Dragons in Toowoomba
The Gold Coast enter Sunday afternoon's clash coming off a disappointing 20-8 defeat to the New Zealand Warriors. Garth Brennan's side struggled in attack, only crossing over for a try in the 76th minute through winger Anthony Don. However, this was to be expected given that the team was without influential halfback Ashley Taylor, who returns from a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, improved front rower Jarrod Wallace plays his first game of 2018 after serving a two-match suspension. Whilst still technically a home game for the Titans, the clash against the Dragons will take place in the in-land town of Toowoomba for the first time in rugby league history. If the Titans are to prevail on Sunday they will need to be defensively tighter in the middle of the field, as they have missed a whopping 91 tackles from the two games they have played this year.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor will be hoping that his side does not get complacent as they sit comfortably atop of the NRL ladder after back-to-back victories. After last year's early surge, Red V fans will know all too well that success in the initial rounds of the competition does not ensure a Top Eight finish. Regardless, St. George Illawarra will need to be far better than they were last week against Cronulla, despite claiming a 20-16 win. The Dragons' ball handling was sloppy and McGregor's side were perhaps fortunate that they came up against a Sharks outfit even more guilty of disrespecting the ball. The competition leaders, however, did stand up in defence in the second half and will be confident of victory on Sunday afternoon if they maintain this resilience given the Gold Coast's defensive frailties.
Last meeting: Round 23 2017 - Dragons 42 Titans 16
Who to watch: The return of halfback Ash Taylor is a massive boost for the home side when considering the quality of his Round 1 performance. Taylor was outstanding for the Titans in their 30-28 win over Canberra, setting up four of his side's five tries. The Gold Coast struggled for points last weekend without the No. 7 and will be hoping that his return will give them the edge on Sunday afternoon.
St. George Illawarra may not have Ash Taylor, yet they do have their own creative playmaker in the form of Gareth Widdop. The five-eighth has enjoyed an impressive start to his 2018 campaign, managing four try-assists and four tackle busts. The acquisition of the experienced Ben Hunt has allowed Widdop to embrace his running game more and has transformed him into a more dangerous player as a result.
The favourite: The Dragons are expected to pick up the points on Sunday afternoon.
My tip: The return of Taylor and Wallace really makes this a difficult one to pick, despite what the punters may be saying. If the Dragons hold onto the ball, however, they should be able to find holes in a vulnerable Gold Coast defensive line. Dragons by 8.
1. Michael Gordon 2. Anthony Don 3. Dale Copley 4. Konrad Hurrell 5. Phillip Sami 6. Kane Elgey 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jai Arrow 9. Nathan Peats 17. Jarrod Wallace 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Ryan James 13. Bryce Cartwright 10. Leilani Latu 14. Mitch Rein 16. Morgan Boyle 18. Keegan Hipgrave
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jack de Belin 14. Luciano Leilua 15. Kurt Mann 16. Leeson Ah Mau 17. Hame Sele
Referees: Henry Perenara, Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Rohan Best; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten;