Knights v Titans Preview

Knights v Titans
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Sunday 2pm

This assumes match-of-the-round status in this shortened weekend, as the fifth-placed Knights take on the fourth-placed Titans – hopefully all of the representative players from both clubs can take their place on Sunday as the match deserves the full complement and a big Newcastle crowd.

Kurt Gidley (Australia), Jarrod Mullen and James McManus (both NSW Country Origin) need to come through Friday night for the home side, while the Titans will be sweating on Luke Bailey, Anthony Laffranchi (both Australia) and Mark Minichiello (City Origin). The Gold Coast will also spend the week without coach John Cartwright as he takes the reins of City Origin.

That said, the Titans prevailed over the Knights back in Round 1 – however the Novocastrians have been pretty impressive since then, winning some great games including last weekend’s demolition of Brisbane.

While many expected the Knights to be competitive, they have played better than expected and are making believers out of many experts and pundits.

The Titans have been quick starters in their first two seasons, only to fall away late, but the difference this season is what appears to be a better attitude away from home.

All in all it shapes as a close and entertaining match.

Newcastle have named the same side from last week, while the Titans, fresh off a tough win over South Sydney have changed things up a little. Preston Campbell returns to fullback, William Zillman returns to the bench, Mat Rogers returns to five-eighth and Esi Tonga returns to the centres. Josh Graham and Bodene Thompson have been added to an extended bench.

Watch out Knights: The Gold Coast attack will be focused towards the right side of the field in an effort to exploit the Knights weaker defences.

Newcastle have conceded 15 tries on the right compared to just five on the left; consequently the Titans will head right. The fact the Titans have scored 13 tries going right compared to eight going left gives them more reason to do so.

The Knights’ wide defenders need to be on their games and take something from their mates on the far side who are the best defenders in terms of limited tries conceded in the NRL.

Watch out Titans: Newcastle winger Akuila Uate is fast becoming a cult hero – and for good reason. After destroying plenty of defenders while playing for Fiji in the World Cup last year, Uate is bringing the form to the NRL and opposition teams are feeling the brunt.

His 85-metre break-away try against Brisbane last weekend is something likely to be repeated plenty of times over the next several years. He is averaging 148 metres gained a match and in just five games he has four line breaks (three from kick returns), four tries and 32 tackle breaks.

The Titans need to keep the ball away from the big unit as much as possible – but if they do kick it his way, they better make sure their kick-chase is switched on or they will be well and truly punished.

Where it will be won: The battle of the halves. Young guns Scott Dureau and Jarrod Mullen face up against the experienced duo of Scott Prince and Mat Rogers, with the winners of the battle set to go a long way to gaining two competition points.

Dureau is kicking an average 238 metres a game, has three line break assists, two try assists and a try to his name, while Mullen kicks for 287 metres, and has three line breaks, three line-break assists, four try assists and four tries.

For the Titans, Rogers kicks for 187 metres, has three line breaks, three line-break assists, two try assists and four tries while Prince kicks for 223 metres, has three line breaks, two line-break assists, four try assists and three tries.

The key could be when each man decides to run. Mullen has scored nice individual tries in successive weeks, while Rogers is an expert at picking a gap close to the line.

The History: Played 4; Knights 2, Titans 2. The Titans defeated the Knights 34-20 in Round 1 at Skilled Park however the only game played between the two clubs in Newcastle went to the Knights 13-12 last year.

Conclusion: Once again this match will be dictated to by how the rep players recover but there is plenty to like about both sides.

There is pressure on the Titans’ assistant coaches this week… will the Gold Coast boys be like schoolkids and turn it up a little while the head coach is away, or will they stay focussed?

The Knights have been very impressive in recent times and will be playing in front of another bumper crowd but they really need Mullen in particular to be right for Sunday to stay a good bet.

Prince will be out to give the youngster a lesson – and if he fires, he’ll steer his side towards victory.

This is a toss-of-the-coin job.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & David Abood; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.