Knights v Titans
Hot on the heels of their thrilling 18-12 win over Melbourne on Monday night, the Gold Coast travel to Hunter Stadium this Sunday with the lure of a top-four spot beckoning should they make it four wins from their past five starts.
It has been quite a turnaround for the Titans in 2013. Having looked somewhat tired in recent seasons, the injection of a youthful halves combination in Aidan Sezer and new arrival Albert Kelly alongside a monstrous forward pack and rejuvenated centre Jamal Idris has seen them gradually place themselves amongst the title contenders.
And while they still have a way to go to prove they can truly match it with the big guns at season’s end, they will – at least for 24 hours – leapfrog Manly into fourth spot on the NRL ladder should they down Newcastle.
The past month has been particularly impressive from the Titans and they will take great confidence from the manner of their performances against both the best and worst in the NRL. Following a 42-4 thrashing of Parramatta and a clinical 31-12 disposal of the Cowboys, the Gold Coast ran Souths right down to the wire in Cairns before overcoming a depleted but competitive Storm outfit earlier this week.
So what can they expect from Newcastle?
It’s no secret that the Knights are always a difficult proposition at Hunter Stadium and with their season on the line they should turn up ready to play. But they will also need to find significant improvement if they are to topple the Titans.
Having sat as high as sixth just a touch over a month ago, four losses in a row have seen Wayne Bennett’s charges drop two points out of the eight and they won’t want to lose any further ground as the competition approaches the business end.
If they are to arrest their slide, Newcastle will need to solve the issue they’ve been having with the ball in hand: those four consecutive losses has seen them score just 52 points at 13 per game including just 12 points against the Warriors and eight in a scrappy loss to St George Illawarra.
The absence of Kurt Gidley through injury hasn’t helped their cause, but with the captain not due back for another fortnight it will be up to experienced key position players Jarrod Mullen and Darius Boyd to find that missing spark.
Veteran Danny Buderus makes his long-awaited return from back surgery and will share the hooking duties with Craig Gower, while Neville Costigan and Zane Tetevano have been promoted from NSW Cup in place of Adam Cuthbertson and Korbin Sims.
Speedster David Mead returns from a broken jaw for the Gold Coast in place of the injured Brad Takairangi while Origin stars Greg Bird and Nate Myles have been named in an extended 20-man squad with their fitness to be determined closer to game time.
Titans back-rower Ashley Harrison makes his 100th appearance for the club (his 259th overall) – becoming just the eighth player to do so.
A loss for the Knights would be just the second time since late 2007 they have lost five in a row.
Watch Out Knights: Halfback Albert Kelly has added a new dimension to the Titans’ attack this season with his raw speed and ability to create something from nothing. His running game will again pose a huge threat to the Newcastle defence.
Halfback’s are usually known for their ability to create but Kelly boasts some remarkable stats in 2013 – leading the Titans for tries scored (10) and line-breaks (8) and ranking second for tackle-breaks (48) behind only William Zillman… not to mention his seven try assists.
Watch Out Titans: When Darius Boyd plays well, the Knights play well so the Queensland State of Origin star is one man that the Titans will be looking to shut down. Boyd is a tremendous kick-returner with his ability to get the ball roiling for the ensuing set, however it is his ability to chime into the backline so effectively that is his greatest trait. Watch for him to ask questions of the Gold Coast edge defenders.
Plays To Watch: It will be interesting to see how each side defends out wide given the multiple threats both teams boast. Darius Boyd will certainly test the Titans’ defensive reads, particularly on their right side where he regularly sweeps around the back. His ideal play is to draw in the opposition winger before throwing a cut-out to his own man to score untouched in the corner. Meanwhile, Titans halfback Albert Kelly loves drifting across field and putting the foot down when he spots a lazy defender. Watch for him to burn them on the right edge.
Where It Will Be Won: Which forward pack will finally learn to work together? Even for the in-form Titans, it’s been tough for coach John Cartwright to get his big man all at their best at the same time. Take Dave Taylor for example: two weeks ago he ran for 153 metres against his former club South Sydney yet last week he made just 80 metres and failed to register a single tackle-break. Newcastle, meanwhile, could do with some assistance for Kade Snowden who has been far and away their best forward in 2013.
The History: Played 10; Knights 6, Titans 4. Newcastle have won three from five between the two sides at Hunter Stadium.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Jason Robinson; Sideline Officials – Brett Suttor & Michael Wise; Video Referee – Ashley Klein & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Knights v Titans clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.
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The Way We See It: This really could go either way. As well as the Gold Coast have been playing, Newcastle is due to return to form sooner rather than later and that’s most likely to happen on home soil. The key for them will be getting their attack working early on and they can’t afford to let the visitors get the jump on them but either way we can’t see a whole lot of points separating the teams. On form, we’ll go for the Titans in a nail biter. Titans by two points.