Knights v Titans Preview

Knights v Titans
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Sunday 2pm

Have the Knights revived their season with a come-from-behind win over Brisbane, or did they just get some last-moment gasps of air into an ailing body?

This weekend’s match-up with a high-flying Titans will give us a better indication of their progress, despite the fact a handful of players will be trying to back up less than 48 hours after representative football.

Newcastle’s win over the Broncos in Round 8 pushed them up to 11th spot on the NRL ladder, just one win away from the top eight and back in striking range of the top sides.

But the precarious nature of their position is magnified when you realise a loss here will guarantee a drop of at least one rung on the ladder – and could see them drop all the way down to 15th (effectively last of the teams in contention), although to get that low it would take a very big hammering.

A loss would also ensure the side was back to two wins off the pace, and chasing the pack won’t be any easier the longer this season progresses.

In the only change from last week, the home side welcomes Steve Simpson back for this crucial encounter, which pushes Zeb Taia to the bench.

Taia, Kurt Gidley and Junior Sa’u need to come through Friday night’s Test match before they can don the red and blue.

Meanwhile, the Titans well and truly held their own in the period without Scott Prince and after having him back last week for the win over Penrith, they look very solid sitting alone in second place.

While they handed the Panthers a lesson last week, they will be usurped by the Penrith boys on the ladder if they lose this match and could actually drop as low as fifth.

This fact, and the burning desire to capture their first win in Newcastle after two heartbreaking losses previously, has the Titans primed.

The only change from last week sees Brad Meyers slated to start for Michael Henderson, although it’s worth noting Greg Bird, Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello all need to get through Friday night’s City-Country clash.

Watch out Knights:
Titans halfback and captain Scott Prince will be out for a massive performance after being overlooked for the Australian team in favour of Cooper Cronk.

With Johnathan Thurston’s shoulders looking dodgier by the minute, Prince will be out to show Queensland selectors he is worthy of the Maroon jersey this season. Cronk has the edge of playing with Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, the Maroons’ fullback and hooker, at club level. Prince, just back from injury last week, is averaging 505 kick metres a game this season from his four performances, has one line-break, three line-break assists, four try assists and two tries. Look for the former Clive Churchill Medal winner to run the show and push his side towards victory.

Watch out Titans:
The Knights’ kicking game is significantly more accurate than the visiting Titans and it could be the difference in this match if the Knights follow it up with a committed kick chase.

Their 65.1 per cent kick accuracy is the third best in the NRL and allows time for chasers to form a line of defence and cut down kick-return metres.

If the Knights can dominate the first few tackles in the set, they will go a long way to limiting the Titans’ attack. The Titans rank 13th in the league for smart clearances, with just 52.7 per cent of their kicks finding space.

Where it will be won: This match will go to the side prepared to play the full 80 minutes; if form in this regard is anything to go by, the Titans have a significant edge.

The side has proven it can hang in a match, even when being dominated, and then come home with a flourish (see Round 7 v Manly). They ride the momentum in games with aplomb and often come out on top.

On the other hand, the Knights have too many major troughs in their performances. They allowed the Broncos to roar over the top of them mid-match last week and had it been a less-brittle opponent, may not have been able to come back to win.

If they allow three or four back-to-back tries against the Titans, they will not win here. It’s obvious the Knights can’t stay up for the full 80, but they are good enough to limit the poor periods to less damage.

The history: Played 5; Knights 3, Titans 2. Last season these two teams split their results, with the competition points going to the home side on each occasion.

In fact, the Titans are yet to win at EnergyAustralia Stadium, losing their previous two matches at the venue in the dying minutes. In 2008 they lost by a single point, while last season a late try saw them fall by just five points.  

Conclusion: Assuming their rep players back up, the Titans look like they should grab their first win in Newcastle.

The Knights have less depth and if their rep guys are at all jaded it will make things extremely difficult.

But if you are looking for an upset, perhaps this is the game. On both previous occasions the two sides met at this venue, the Titans were expected to win, only to be pipped at the post… perhaps it is on the cards again?

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.