TWL PREVIEW: WARRIORS V TITANS

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS – 5.05PM (NZT)/3.05PM (AEDT), SATURDAY, MARCH 17 @ MOUNT SMART STADIUM

The Storyline: The Warriors are buoyant after producing arguably the most convincing Round 1 performance in the club’s notoriously slow-starting history.

They were confident, tough and clinical in a 32-20 win over South Sydney, riding out the rough patches with unfamiliar composure as the impact of classy recruits Blake Green and Tohu Harris – plus vastly improved fitness – became immediately apparent. Spine superstars Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and Issac were magnificent, while the Warriors’ young, compact forward pack stood up big time.

But the watershed display has put even more pressure on the previously unfancied Warriors to put up a strong follow-up performance in front of their home fans.

The Titans’ opening-round victory was no less stirring, pegging back an 18-0 deficit against Canberra to snatch a 30-28 win courtesy of a late Konrad Hurrell try. Marquee man Ashley Taylor had the ball on a string, Hurrell was at his barnstorming best and the Titans seem set to rediscover the punch-above-their-weight peskiness that carried them to the 2016 finals.

The History: Played 22 – Warriors won 15, Titans won 7

The Stats

-The Warriors have won 13 of their last 14 against the Titans, including the last five straight.
-The Warriors boast a 7-3 overall home record against the Titans.
-Shaun Johnson has scored 10 tries and 96 points in 13 appearances against the Titans – his best record against any club in both departments.
-The Warriors have not won their first two games in a season since 2009.
-The Titans have not won their first two games in a season since 2010.
-The Warriors are on a four-game losing streak at Mount Smart; the Titans are on a four-game losing streak on the road.
-The Titans’ winning record against the Warriors is their worst against any club besides the Broncos.

3 Key Match-ups

Shaun Johnson v Ashley Taylor: Johnson seemed to have a new lease of life with Blake Green steering the ship, taking the line on regularly and carving Souths up with a vintage attacking display. Taylor was no less impressive against the Raiders, with his short kicking game single-handedly dragging the Titans back into the contest. Neither No.7 can be afforded the same latitude this weekend.

Solomone Kata v Konrad Hurrell: The two Tongan wrecking balls come together in a key centre match-up. Hurrell was outstanding against the Raiders, but how coming back to Mount Smart as a Titan for the first time effects the enigma is anyone’s guess. Despite being sin-binned, Kata’s performance was better than anything he came up with in 2017. Both are defensive liabilities and game-changing ball-runners.

Tohu Harris v Ryan James: Harris was everywhere in his Warriors debut, topping the tackle count, producing a try assist and generally stamping his quality all over the contest. Moving to the second-row in 2018, Titans skipper James was equally outstanding in last week’s win, topping the tackle count (30) and run metres tally (166). The pair will undoubtedly have a big influence on Saturday.

Under the Pump: Ken Maumalo had one of his stronger games in the top flight last week, scoring a try and topping the running metres count. But his frailties on defence and under the high ball were exposed once again. Coming up against wily Titans winger Anthony Don, Maumalo will get continually tested. With several young flyers breathing down his neck, Big Ken needs to deliver week after week to hold his spot.

Last Time They Met: The Warriors grabbed their only away win of 2017 – and their second-last victory of the season overall – when they trounced the Titans 34-12 on the Gold Coast in Round 16 last year. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was exceptional, Blake Ayshford bagged a double, and Ryan Hoffman crossed for a try in his 300th NRL game.

Why We’ll Win: Similar effort and execution, plus a greater focus on discipline, should see the Warriors salute in front of their home fans. Their composure in the final 20 minutes against the Rabbitohs was a positive sign – particularly ahead of a clash with a Titans side that proved again how hard they are to stop when they get a bit of momentum. The Warriors have started the season fit and firing, while they have a major advantage in backline firepower.

Why We’ll Lose: The cynical answer is because they’re expected to win. The Warriors have a chronic habit of bottling games when everything is pointing towards a comfortable victory. If they clock off at any stage, Gold Coast will pounce. Taylor has hit the ground running in 2017, the Titans’ pack are just as mobile as their counterparts but boast more size and variety, and the team comes into this match under little pressure. There’s still significant holes in the Warriors’ defensive make-up.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Warriors $1.35, Titans $3.00. Line: Warriors -8.5.

Six of the Warriors’ last seven wins over the Titans were by 8 points or more. The Titans have covered 34 of their last 52 interstate. The Titans are 22-13 against the spread interstate getting a start of 6.5 or more. Gold Coast have won 12 of their last 35 as an interstate underdog of 6.5 or more outright for a profit on turnover of 62%, the best in the NRL. The Titans are 10-5 against the line as an interstate underdog off a win with a 10-5 over record. The Warriors have covered just 13 of their last 33 at Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered just 9 of 24 at Mt Smart after conceding 20 or more. Stats via TAB

Tips: – Warriors 1-12 @ $3.00
David Fusitu’a To Score a Try and Warriors Win @ $2.00
Over 45.5 Points @ $1.87
Warriors by 7-12 @ $6.00
Halftime Points Start – Warriors -4.5 @ $1.92

The Verdict: Now that the euphoria surrounding last week’s momentous win has subsided, there’s more than a little trepidation about carrying the favourites tag into a clash against a streaky Titans outfit. The Perth success is an outstanding platform to work off but that performance means nothing when the Warriors trot out onto Mount Smart on Saturday evening. The Titans will keep coming all day, but if the Warriors stick to what they did well in Round 1, cut down the penalties and tighten up their edge defence, they should get the job done for the Auckland faithful…after a few trademark nervous moments. Warriors by 12

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