The NRL heads to the Gold Coast to round out round one of the 2018 season with the Titans hosting the Raiders. This is a game that is shrouded with questions from Bryce Cartwright's form to Canberra's hooker position. It's difficult to comment on these sides without having seen them play, both have the potential to excel in 2018 but equally, the potential to fail.
For the Titans, this is their chance to prove they won't be the easy-beats they've been speculated to be. With a new coach, new owners, and a host of new players, its the Coast's chance to show 2018 won't hold to same misery that last year did. Coach Brennan made the promise to fans that, although they may not win every game, the fans would walk away proud of the team's effort, it's time to walk the walk.
For the Raiders, this has become a game of opportunity. The crushing blow that was Josh Hodgson's ACL injury has opened the door for youngster Siliva Havili to take over the hooker role. Meanwhile, Sam Williams returns to the Canberra side in the halfback position, with Blake Austin being relegated to the bench. It's expected Austin or Aidan Sezer will make a switch to hooker throughout the game.
2017 - Rd 6 - Canberra Raiders def. Gold Coast Titans 42-16 at Cbus Super Stadium
2016 - Rd 16 - Canberra Raiders def. Gold Coast Titans 30-22 at Cbus Super Stadium
2016 - Rd 4 - Gold Coast Titans def. Canberra Raiders 24-20 at GIO Stadium
2015 - Rd 24 - Gold Coast Titans def. Canberra Raiders 28-12 at Cbus Super Stadium
2015 - Rd 9 - Canberra Raiders def. Gold Coast Titans 56-16 GIO Stadium
The past five meetings between these sides make for unusual viewing with the home team winning just twice in the last five games. The Raiders hold a slight advantage over the Titans claiming three of the last five games. It's also worth noting that the Gold Coast hasn't defeated Canberra at home since 2015.
|Gold Coast Titans||Canberra Raiders|
|1||Michael Gordon||Jack Wighton|
|2||Anthony Don||Nick Cotric|
|3||Dale Copley||Jarrod Croker (c)|
|4||Konrad Hurrell||Joseph Leilua|
|5||Phillip Sami||Jordan Rapana|
|6||Kane Elgey||Aidan Sezer|
|7||Ashley Taylor||Sam Williams|
|8||Jai Arrow||Junior Paulo|
|9||Nathan Peats||Siliva Havili|
|10||Leilani Latu||Shannon Boyd|
|11||Kevin Proctor||Josh Papalii|
|12||Ryan James (c)||Joseph Tapine|
|13||Bryce Cartwright||Elliott Whitehead|
|14||Mitch Rein||Blake Austin|
|15||Max King||Luke Bateman|
|16||Will Matthews||Dunamis Lui|
|17||Morgan Boyle||Iosia Soliola|
|18||Joe Greenwood||Charlie Gubb|
|19||Jai Whitbread||Brad Abbey|
|20||Tyronne Roberts-Davis||Royce Hunt|
|21||Alexander Brimson||Craig Garvey|
The facts that matter
Gold Coast Titans
As mentioned, the Titans begin round one with a host of new faces. Most notably, Bryce Cartwright and Michael Gordon debut for the club at lock and fullback, respectively. Newcomers Leilani Latu and Jai Arrow make up a new-look front row for the Titans with incumbent prop Jarrod Wallace suspended until round three. Ex-Panther Mitch Rein takes a utility spot on the bench, and Will Matthews plays his first game since returning to the club off the bench.
Anthony Don has recovered from his shoulder injury ahead of schedule, allowing him to take his spot in the team. After a highly impressive pre-season young gun Phillip Sami takes the other wing spot, with injuries preventing Brendan Elliot and Brenko Lee from being named.
After impressive debut seasons, the pressure will be on Max King and Morgan Boyle to provide impact off the bench once the likes of Arrow and Latu go off. King starred in the Titans trial against the Warriors a fortnight ago, whereas Boyle has battled injury throughout the pre-season.
Ash Taylor lines up for his first game since re-signing with the club for a further three seasons, and the pressure will be on the young half to repay the faith shown in him by the Titans. It's another story for off-contract five-eighth Kane Elgey, who desperately needs to impress if he is to hold onto his spot, especially with former under 20's Queensland halfback, Alexander (AJ) Brimsons snapping at his heels.
It came as a bit of a surprise earlier in the week when incumbent five-eighth Blake Austin was moved to the bench, allowing Sam Williams a return to the Raiders starting side. It would appear that Austin will be injected into the game to allow Tongan rake Siliva Havili to have a break, with either Austin or Sezer moving into the number nine position.
After allegedly returning from the Samoan World Cup camp overweight, eyes will be on the fitness of Josh Papalii as he lines up against a quality Titans back-row pairing. After slipping in the eyes of many in 2017, Papalii will be looking to recapture his old form in the new season.
After being labeled the disappointments of the 2017 season the pressure is on Ricky Stuart and the Canberra team to get back to the form that saw them make a preliminary final just two years ago. One of their key players, Josh Hodgson will miss the majority of the 2018 season and so it's imperative that the Raiders find their solution to the hooker position quickly.
It's always difficult to predict the winners of round one, will Cartwright excel for the Titans? Will Havili and Austin be able to cover the loss of Hodgson? We simply don't know yet. With an explosive backline it could be the Raiders that get the job done through their attacking brilliance, Expect a close game, but the Raiders to just get up over the Titans.