Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans
Sometimes the Telstra Premiership can throw up anomalies that are hard to explain yet impossible to ignore.
For the past four seasons the Bulldogs have been perennial premiership contenders and the Titans haven't finished better than ninth yet it is the Titans who have won four of the past five meetings between these two teams.
The Bulldogs call ANZ Stadium home yet technically have not won a 'home' game there this season. (Their 42-12 win over the Rabbitohs in Round 4 was a South Sydney home game.) On the other hand, the Titans have only been defeated once at ANZ Stadium since 2008, recording four wins against the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs.
Like the popularity of the Kardashians and the combination of chocolate and peanut butter there are some things beyond our understanding and perhaps that includes a stranglehold that the Titans hold over the Bulldogs.
Or Des Hasler's men could flex their considerable muscle as they did against Souths, blow the slow-starting Titans off the park and give the rest of the NRL a reminder that it might not necessarily be an all-Queensland grand final for a second straight year.
The only changes for the Bulldogs are the additions of Lloyd Perrett and Craig Garvey to an extended bench while the Titans again go into a game with a different 17 that took the field the week prior.
Lock Greg Bird is back from suspension but Gold Coast will be without Daniel Mortimer (hamstring), hooker Kierran Moseley included on a five-man bench.
The match will see Greg Eastwood play his 200th NRL game and Luke Douglas become just the 21st player to play 100 games for two NRL clubs when he runs out for his 100th game for the Titans, the 246th NRL game of his career that began with the Sharks in 2006.
Watch out Bulldogs: It has been evident this year that Ryan James is no longer to be content as a contributor to the Titans, he wants to be a leader. The most penalised player in the competition last season wasn't in the top 50 heading into Round 7 and produced an 80-minute performance that saw him yield 171 metres along with 61 tackles and three tackle busts. Averaging close to 60 minutes per game he faces off against Canterbury skipper James Graham on Saturday with a responsibility to lead his forward pack into battle against one of the most formidable opposition in the competition. It's an assignment he is looking more and more ready to handle.
Watch out Titans: Nathan Hindmarsh once described him to me as the hardest player he ever tried to tackle and while he may not receive many of the plaudits Bulldogs winger Sam Perrett is in a rare vein of form. In addition to scoring a crucial try he produced a terrific defensive effort marking up on Marika Koroibete in the Bulldogs' win over the Storm in Round 6 and then last week against the Warriors he crossed twice in the space of four minutes, had two try assists, three line breaks, five tackle busts and two line-break assists. A brilliant dummy-half runner, you know Perrett will be dependable, but he might also be brilliant.
Key match-up: Greg Eastwood v Greg Bird. Full disclosure; I'm an unabashed fan of 'Beastwood' and the fact that he is footballer first, athlete second. Playing in his 200th NRL game he brings so much skill to the Bulldogs through the middle of the field and with minimal physical exertion is able to put attacking players flat on their backs through impeccable defensive technique. Greg Bird had to sit on the sideline last Saturday as he served a one-game suspension for a careless high tackle and will be eager to push his case for selection in the Test team in a fortnight. You're never exactly sure what you're going to get with these two but you know that at any moment they can deliver the game-changing play that turns a contest on its head.
History: Played 13; Bulldogs 6, Titans 7. With four wins from their past five games the Titans' recent record against the Bulldogs is their equal best in the NRL despite going down 36-14 in Gosford last year. Canterbury winger Curtis Rona scored a double on that occasion, the second time he had done so in as many games against Gold Coast. In seven of the 13 games between the two teams the Bulldogs have kept the Titans to one try or less in the first half and gone on to win five of them, the biggest shock coming in Round 26, 2014 when the Titans came from 18-0 down at the break to win 19-18.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee: Chris James; Touch Judges: Ricky Macfarlane and Anthony Eliott; Review Officials: Jason Robinson and Ben Galea; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2.30pm.
How we see it: A demanding fortnight on the road to Melbourne and Wellington will have been physically taxing on the Bulldogs but expect them to respond in a big way on home soil. Providing the weather is good a 3pm kick-off will suit their halves pairing of Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye who will look to stretch a Titans defence that has to first contend with the big Bulldogs forwards. If the Titans concede first points – as they have for the past six weeks – it could turn into a long afternoon. Bulldogs by 14 points.