Gold Coast Titans 34 def Newcastle Knights 20
ECSTATIC Newcastle fans who stopped watching the match after their team skipped to a 14-0 lead midway through the first half must be scratching their heads – how on earth could they not have gone on to win? Such was the Knights’ dominance the Titans’ frustration was reaching breaking point. Arguing with referees, arguing with each other... you sensed it was only a matter of how much they’d lose by. But in the blink of an eye, the same time it took Akuila Uate and Jarrod Mullen to score for Newcastle, Gold Coast had marched to the front, and it was a lead they never relinquished.
The Game Swung When... Former Bronco Brad Meyers broke the Knights’ back with the decisive try in the 54th minute when the score was 22-20. After two repeats sets of six tackles, the Titans needed to score to give themself the edge after an incredible amount of pressure. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Meyers received a pass one off the ruck and angled back into the defence, trampling two defenders and sliding past another couple to stretch the lead to eight after the conversion.
Who Was Hot... Scott Prince’s importance to the Titans can never be underestimated – when he’s on the field he gives his side a massive advantage – and he used all his talents to lead his side to victory against the Knights. Prince scored a vital try and kicked five goals to push his side closer to a winning scoreline. But it was his work that wasn’t listed on the scoreboard that was most important. Every time he touched the ball the Knights flinched – backing away and unsure what to do – and he cracked the line twice too. Amazingly, he also committed zero errors. He proved the difference.
Who Was Not... Journeyman Ben Rogers was extremely disappointing after impressive trial form. The former Dragon and Rabbitoh was found out on several occasions in defence, missing two important tackles including a blatant miss on Prince that directly resulted in a try, but it was his attack that was most frustrating for Newcastle fans. Rogers offered little with the ball in hand and kicked poorly, including one shocking attempted clearing kick that finished in the grandstand.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... Expect to see Nathan Friend’s 38th-minute try plenty of times this season. Attacking the Newcastle line, Gold Coast five-eighth Mat Rogers grubbered into the in-goal area, where Newcastle winger James McManus spilt the ball. It appeared the ball would go dead but amazingly Titan Esi Tonga reeled the ball in and flicked it back into the field of play – from mid-air, over the touch-in-goal line – for Friend to awkwardly fall on the ball and the video ref to award a benefit-of-the-doubt try.
Ref Watch... The NRL’s shift to the dual-referee system continued to be a success in this clash. At no stage did Matt Cecchin or Chris James get in the way of play, and at most stages the assist referee went unnoticed. Combined the pair blew 18 penalties, including an early grapple against Anthony Laffranchi. Titans co-captain Luke Bailey appeared to be angry with a decision to be penalised in the 20th minute, but the call was warranted. The referees, however, failed to notice a Newcastle player’s elbow on Gold Coast back-rower Ashley Harrison in the 26th minute. The Knight, who couldn’t be recognised on video footage, carried the ball with a raised elbow, copping Harrison on the face. The incident is sure to be looked at by the NRL’s match review committee. (Ed: it was – Kurt Gidley was charged with striking but will be free to play with a guilty plea.)
Injuries... The Titans and Knights appear to have come out of the match unscathed. It is welcome news for the Gold Coast, who felt the loss of several key players in 2008 due to injury. Former Raider William Zillman, who underwent a knee reconstruction last season, enjoyed a strong comeback to the NRL, scoring a runaway try for his new club in the 72nd minute.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Scott Prince (Titans): Scored 14 points and directed the play beautifully; 2 points – Luke Bailey (Titans): Played 53 minutes and kept his team on the front foot with many strong charges; 1 point – Kurt Gidley (Knights): Ran for 131 metres and always tested the Titans’ defence.
Titans 34 (N Friend, B Meyers, S Prince, M Rogers, W Zillman, L O'Dwyer tries; S Prince 5 goals) def Knights 20 (M Hilder, A Uate, J Mullen tries; K Gidley 4 goals) at Skilled Park. Crowd: 16,203.