Knights v Titans Review

Newcastle Knights 23 def Gold Coast Titans 18

THIS clash promised so much – the Titans, sitting in fourth position, in their best away-from-home form since entering the competition, and the Knights in fifth, with seven home victories in a row – and it certainly developed into one of the best matches of 2009.

The Titans went to an early lead when journeyman Chris Walker found space occupied by Akuila Uate... but it was the only period of the match they were front-runners. From then on, the home side looked destined for a big victory – but only before the Titans came home strongly in a controversial finish.

The Game Swung When... After opening the scoring in the 14th minute, the Gold Coast proved their worst enemy in the middle stages of the first half.

After a penalty the Knights responded when Scott Dureau ran in Scott Prince-like fashion across field, ball in one hand showing options to the defence, before his shake and bake play drew the attention of the Titans and he put prop Chris Houston into a hole to score.

Minutes later a moment of madness from NSW and Australian representative Anthony Laffranchi saw Newcastle on the attack once again, with forward Richard Fa’aoso sending Ben Rogers into open space. The former Rabbitoh scurried downfield and, with men in support, stepped fullback Preston Campbell to stretch the lead to eight points.

The trend of Gold Coast ill-discipline continued, gifting the Knights field position and possession before a Zeb Taia charge secured the Knights’ third try in eight minutes. The run saw the Knights up 18-4 and while the Titans launched a comeback late in the first and second halves, they couldn’t completely recover.

However, trailing 23-18 they had a potential 79th-minute try to William Zillman controversially disallowed by the video referee after co-captain Scott Prince was ruled to have held back Newcastle centre Junior Sau and was penalised for obstruction.

Who Was Hot... Although quiet by his usual lofty standards, Kurt Gidley continues to be the Knights’ MVP and he was influential even after backing up from Friday night’s Test against New Zealand.

Gidley orchestrated the majority of Newcastle’s attack and pulled off several vital tackles in defence – and in high-pressure situations. The Knights’ fullback and utility rep ran for a match-high 179 metres, registered one try assist and made 12 important tackles. It’s this form that makes him a certainty for the Blues and Kangaroos.

Who Was Not...
Titans centre Josh Graham was only weeks ago touted by team-mates as a potential representative player – but in this match he went AWOL. In 80 minutes he ran seven times for just 39 metres.

Coach John Cartwright would expect his backline star to go looking for the ball – and to break the line – many more times than that.

Had To Be Seen To Be Believed...
Steve Simpson’s massive 44th-minute hit on Gold Coast forward Brad Meyers was felt throughout Newcastle. Not only was it one of the hits of the year, but it immediately lifted his team-mates.

On the attack and with the momentum well in their favour, the hit took the wind out of the Titans’ sail and it’s no surprise they didn’t score any points thereafter. It was a big play and had an even bigger impact.

Refs watch...
Referees Ben Cummins and Steve Lyons, as well as video referee Sean Hampstead, had a busy afternoon.

Apart from Zillman’s controversial no-try ruling that could’ve handed the Titans victory, plenty of their decisions were placed under the microscope. Early in the match the Knights dominated proceedings, dominating possession with nine sets in a row and receiving handfuls of penalties consecutively – the Titans lacked any semblance of discipline.

With the score 6-4 in the home side’s favour, Titan Anthony Laffranchi was placed on report by Lyons for what appeared to be a blatant elbow on prop Mark Taufua. He was later charged by the NRL match review committee but will fight the charge at the judiciary on Wednesday night.

At various stages during the game, with his team on the receiving end of a string of penalties, Gold Coast co-captain Prince asked questions of the officials – and they were dealt with succinctly.

Luke Bailey’s try to bridge the gap to eight points just five minutes before half-time had some doubt over it – ‘Bull’ appearing to have grounded the ball short of the line – but Cummins awarded the four-pointer after Hampstead ruled ‘Ref’s Call’.

The final penalty count ended 10-6 in favour of Newcastle, but the final no-try ruling will surely be the most discussed issue during the week.

Injuries... The match passed without injuries until just minutes remaining. With the Titans on the attack, Newcastle’s Fa’aoso stayed on the ground with a leg injury and Gold Coast hooker Nathan Friend threw the ball into him, remarkably drawing a penalty. Fa’aoso’s condition was not known at the close of play.

NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Kurt Gidley (Knights): Not even at his best and still the most influential player on the park; 2 points – Isaac De Gois (Knights): Another impressive display from the NRL’s most improved hooker; 1 point – Preston Campbell (Titans): Posed problems in attack and was courageous in defence.

Knights 23 (C Houston, B Rogers, Z Taia, J McManus tries; Gidley 3 goals; J Mullen field goal) def Titans 18 (C Walker, L Bailey, K Gordon tries; S Prince 3 goals) at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Crowd: 11,258.