Round 5: Titans v Sea Eagles preview
Last-start winners look to maintain form in Central Queensland
Producing an inept showing against the ladder leading Dragons in Toowoomba a fortnight ago, the Gold Coast Titans will continue their voyage throughout regional Queensland as they face off against an unpredictable Manly outfit intent on finding consistency. Recording a shock win over the highly rated Broncos last Sunday, coach Garth Brennan will be hoping the 26-14 result serves as a catalyst for further strong showings from his players, as they look to record consecutive wins in the first NRL match played in Gladstone. Retaining the same squad that performed strongly in Brisbane, the clash against the Sea Eagles will serve as a milestone event for former captain Kevin Proctor, who will feature in his 200th appearance in the NRL after beginning his career with Melbourne a decade ago. Having signed Bryce Cartwright to a long-term deal over the off-season, the former Penrith utility was used sparingly in the win over Brisbane despite starting in the previous three matches. Rated as a unique talent by numerous judges, expect Cartwright's injection into the contest to reflect how the side is performing in the context of the match. With the drama of last season seemingly behind them, the Titans have demonstrated glimpses of the collectivist form produced during the club's periods of success; while it is far too early to declare the side as a finals contender, the promise shown in downing Brisbane can be seen as an appetiser for much greater results potentially to come.
Upon reflection of the Sea Eagles 32-16 win over Canberra last Saturday, an optimistic or pessimistic reading would illicit major differences in interpretation. Having dominated the opening half to cast aside the off-field dramas relating to the club's management of the salary cap over the previous five years, the Sea Eagles presented a show of authority reminiscent of their annihilation of Parramatta in Round 2. In contrast, the fallout of the Raiders match resulted in a costly injury toll that will see Curtis Sironen and Kelepi Tanginoa spend the remainder of the year on the sidelines, while Tom Trbojevic is set for another short stint off the field after sustaining an ankle injury. Despite the mixed news, the Sea Eagles will be hopeful of continuing their strong run of form over the Titans in recent years, which has seen Manly claim four wins from the past five clashes. Forced into multiple changes brought on by injury, Dylan Walker will return in a backline reshuffle that sees Matthew Wright assume the fullback role, while Frank Winterstein and former South Sydney first grader Jack Gosweiski will come into the forward rotation following strong showings in reserve grade over the past month. Having produced an emphatic performance only to follow up with mediocrity the following week earlier this season, coach Trent Barrett will be stressing upon his players the importance of remaining consistent throughout matches in order to ensure the Sea Eagles establish a culture of success.
Who to watch: While he may not boast the same profile as his more fancied halfback, Jai Arrow's journey to and impact upon the Gold Coast has arguably been more influential than Ashley Taylor in establishing the Titans as a competitive squad over the opening month of the season. Shifting from the Broncos in search of more game time having languished on the bench and in reserve grade last season, the 22-year-old has thrived as a starting player with his defensive work rate providing the Titans with a much-needed forward leader to complement the finesse of the side's exciting backline. Facing off against representative star Jake Trbojevic in a personal duel that shapes as pivotal to determining which side emerges from Central Queensland with the two points, Arrow will be eager to continue his development as a starting player, while positioning himself as an additional attacking threat for the Gold Coast to utilise close to the line.
While a player as naturally gifted as Tom Trbojevic is near impossible to effectively replace, stand-in fullback Matthew Wright will be intent on filling the void left by ‘Tommy Turbo' with a focus on providing reliability from the back of the field. Debuting in first grade while still a teenager, the former Sharks and Cowboys utility back has struggled to gain the recognition his on-field contribution deserves, as evidenced by Paul Green's decision to drop him in the weeks leading up to North Queensland's maiden premiership title, all the while accruing over 100 appearances in first grade and representing Samoa on multiple occasions. Handed a lifeline on the Northern Beaches by Trent Barrett two years ago, Wright has been a pillar of stability when called upon by his former Cronulla teammate with his dependable style of play bringing out the best in teammates around him. While it is unlikely the end result will see the 27-year-old break any premiership records, if Manly do depart Gladstone with two competition points, expect Wright to be integral to the Sea Eagles' fortunes.
My tip: With both sides producing erratic displays over the opening four weeks of the season, it is difficult to effectively gauge where the two combatants sit among the other 14 teams vying for the premiership. As a result, the loss of Tom Trbojevic should give the Titans the advantage needed to make amends for their earlier regional Queensland venture. Titans by 8.