Round 20: Titans v Raiders preview
Titans trouble as Holbrook hopes to snap losing streak
Saturday afternoon sees the Gold Coast Titans host the Canberra Raiders at CBUS Super Stadium with both teams having plenty to play for. The goal for the Canberra Raiders is a return to the finals, and with plenty of teams in the fight they will have to be clinical from here on out. As for the Titans, the wooden spoon is a very real possibility, and the club will be desperate to avoid a last place finish. Currently sitting in 10th, the Raiders are one of four teams with twenty competition points on the ladder. The Roosters, Sea Eagles, and the Dragons are all just as motivated to clinch that 8th and final spot, and with just six games left in the regular season anything could happen. If Canberra are to make a return to playing finals football, this weekend against the Titans is two points that they simply cannot drop.
Ricky Stuart's side are coming off a couple of very important wins since their bye. A gritty victory over the Storm in round 18 was a massive confidence-booster for the club, and they showed plenty of spirit last weekend to mount a comeback against the Warriors at home. Down 14-0 at the break, there was plenty of work to do in the second half, but Canberra responded strongly, piling on 26 unanswered points to take a twelve point win. The fightback was largely thanks to an outstanding second forty of football by Canberra's five-eighth Jack Wighton, who produced two incredibly important 40/20s that significantly shifted the momentum of the game. Both of these kicks gave his team the field position that led to tries, with bench forward Corey Harawira-Naera crossing for a second half double and being denied a hat trick by the bunker. He will be important off the bench again this weekend. But despite the strong second half showing there are still plenty of question marks over the Raiders. Struggling with inconsistency for a long time now, Canberra will need to be able to string together some full eighty minute performances if they want to go deeper into the competition, and there's no doubt that the Gold Coast can make them pay if they don't produce their best level of footy for the whole match. Canberra have named the same 17 this Tuesday, with the recovering Semi Valamei making an appearance in the reserves.
After such high hopes at the start of the season the Gold Coast Titans sit in 15th following 19 rounds. With the wooden spoon a serious possibility, pressure is mounting on their coach Justin Holbrook to find something to inspire his side with the regular season coming to a close. With rumours circling and fans angry, a win this weekend in front of a home crowd might be just what the Titans need to calm things down a little. A win is easier said than done however. With eight consecutive losses, the Titans have not been in the winners circle since round ten. Last weekend was a great opportunity to find just their fourth win of the season, playing against the lowly Bulldogs. But Gold Coast's defence let them down yet again, leaking 36 points in a ten point loss to Canterbury.
A major area that has come under scrutiny for the Gold Coast recently is their inexperienced spine. Losing Jamal Fogarty over the off-season has left a void, with a lot of trust being placed in the young Toby Sexton. Aaron Booth will play at hooker and AJ Brimson seems to be staying at fullback for now with Jayden Campbell on the bench. It's been a tough week for the Titans and rugby league in general, with a number of controversial issues gaining media attention. Senior player and former Gold Coast captain Kevin Proctor was sacked earlier this week for vaping in the dressing sheds at halftime, and in a team that is already lacking experienced players and leaders, it'll be interesting to see how the team responds this weekend. There are a number of changes in the Titans line up this week, with captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui shifting to prop giving Erin Clark the chance to start at lock. Corey Thompson has not been included in the 17 with Brian Kelly moving into the centres and Patrick Herbet shifting out to the wing.
The last time these two teams met was back in round three, with Gold Coast roaring to a huge early lead before imploding in the second half. Canberra Raiders stole the win late in the match, getting over the line by a margin of just two points. Both sides will want to play with a lot more consistency throughout the eighty minutes this weekend. The Titans have won just one of their last seven meetings with the Canberra Raiders.
Who to watch: Young outside back Sosefo Fifita has been named to keep his spot on the wing in what will be just his third NRL appearance this weekend. Playing for Queensland in the Under 19s State of Origin game back in representative round, he has since made his NRL debut and scored his first try in the top grade last week. He is certainly one to watch not just for this weekend, but as his career develops also.
Titan-turned-Raider Jamal Fogarty will have a lot to play for this Saturday against his old club. Despite making his NRL debut in 2017 (at the Gold Coast), Fogarty spent a few more years in reserve grade before becoming a mainstay in the top grade. Now approaching 50 NRL appearances, he seems to be fitting in well at his new club. His combination with five-eighth Jack Wighton will be crucial for the Raiders in attack.
The favourite: The Canberra Raiders are the favourites to win this Saturday on the Gold Coast.
My tip: The Titans defence has been absolutely atrocious for a long time now, and with things seemingly only going downhill at the club I can't see how they could challenge a confident Canberra outfit. Raiders by 20.