Round 15: Titans v Sea Eagles preview
Do-or-die for Titans in must-win encounter
Needing to win on Saturday afternoon to have any chance of qualifying for the play-offs, the Gold Coast Titans host the Manly Sea Eagles at CBUS Super Stadium in a must-win clash.
Sitting three wins outside the top eight in 15th position, the Titans remain in contention to feature beyond Round 25 given the closeness of this year's competition, however with the most recent NRL franchise only capable of accruing a maximum of 30 points over the remainder of the season, the side can ill-afford to drop matches at home.
Facing the Sea Eagles only a month after posting a high-scoring win at Lottoland during Indigenous Round, coach Garth Brennan will be banking on the Titans maintaining a strong record over their opponents that has produced wins in four of their past five meetings.
Hosting the fixture at CBUS Super Stadium a fortnight after narrowly going down to the Warriors, 24-20, interim captain Tyrone Roberts will celebrate his 150th first grade appearance after debuting with Newcastle as a teenager back in 2011.
Naming Jai Whitbread in place of injured workhorse Jai Arrow, veteran forward Will Matthews will play his match of the season in the second row, however Kevin Proctor may come into the final 17 after being selected on an extended bench.
Highly accomplished English international Kallum Watkins will be available from next week after being granted a release from Leeds to take up a two-and-a-half year deal with the Titans.
Coming into the match in solid form after accounting for the Dragons in a clinical performance, 34-14, prior to the representative break, the Sea Eagles have proven to be the surprise packets in a season many predicted them to run last.
Already surpassing their total number of wins from last season, coach Des Hasler has instilled a genuine sense of belief throughout his squad of unfashionables, while benefitting from the class of superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic fresh from a hat-trick in last Sunday's second Origin.
Winning six of 11 matches contested against the Titans on the Gold Coast, including the most recent meeting back in 2017, the Sea Eagles will be eyeing off three straight wins for the second time this season.
Experiencing an injury littered career beginning with the West Tigers back in 2012 as a halfback, second rower Curtis Sironen will bring up a century of first grade appearances on Saturday afternoon.
Regaining impressive rookie Corey Waddell following a two-match ban, Manase Fainu replaces Apisai Koroisau who is set to be unavailable until after Origin with an ankle issue. Selecting Brendan Elliot in jersey 14, don't be surprised to see Lachlan Croker or former Gold Coast playmaker Kane Elgey come into the final team as the interchange utility.
Who to watch: Heralded as a marquee signing by the Titans twelve months ago, Shannon Boyd has struggled to live up to the reputation that saw him represent the Kangaroos earlier in his career. Losing his starting position just weeks after making the move north, the 26-year-old former Canberra enforcer has averaged less than 100 metres in 33 minutes per game this season in an underwhelming start to life of the Gold Coast. Set to see an increase in game time with workhorse Jai Arrow potentially sidelined up until the end of the regular season, look for Boyd to rise to the challenge on Saturday afternoon as he faces off against the Sea Eagles imposing pack of forwards.
In a team full of players other clubs deemed surplus to requirement, Sea Eagles winger Reuben Garrick has more than made the most of his opportunity in the top grade this year. Unable to break into the Dragons' NRL team despite an impressive pedigree including appearances for the Australian Schoolboys and NSW Under 20s, the 21-year-old flyer has cemented a place on the right flank under Des Hasler's guidance, bagging seven tries at a strike rate of 50 per cent. Emblematic of everything that has gone right at Manly in 2019, look for Garrick to defy initial judgements with a strong showing opposite in-form try-scorer Dale Copley as he continues a terrific debut season with the potential to culminate in Rookie of the Year honours.
My tip: While the Titans have shown themselves to be a willing team capable of causing upsets so far this season, the class of the Sea Eagles should see the visitors come away with two competition points at the end of 80 minutes. Sea Eagles by 16.