Titans v Knights Preview

Titans v Knights
Skilled Park
Sunday 3pm

Newcastle aren’t dead yet and with the confidence only a last-minute sideline conversion win can bring, the Knights fly to the Gold Coast looking to knock the home side out of the top four.

Kurt Gidley’s wonderful 79th-minute conversion against the Eels last Monday night breathed life into the Novocastrians’ finals dreams, but they are still on life support and need another win against a Scott Prince-less Titans to continue a potential surge.

Down in 12th spot on the NRL ladder, still four points adrift of the top eight but with a bye in hand, the Knights can still make a run for the top eight if they win around seven of their last 10 games. This means they must take advantage of any chance they get – and the Titans without Prince is one of those said chances.

Of course, this Gold Coast side is far from a one-man team, but they definitely lose a little bit of punch without their skipper at the helm.

The home side sits nicely in fourth following a win over the Bulldogs and could push up to third if they get the result here. A loss could drop them as low as sixth, something they are looking to avoid as the season gets closer to an end.

With Prince out, Preston Campbell returns from injury at halfback. Luke Bailey and Ashley Harrison also return to the side, which moves Matthew White and Bodene Thompson back to the bench and sees Mark Minichiello go from lock to the second row.

Luke O’Dwyer and Aaron Cannings are out of the side, with Kayne Lawton added onto a five-man bench.

For the Knights, Dan Tolar will start at prop, pushing Richie Fa’aoso to the bench and Matt Hilder will start at lock, sending Mark Taufua to the pine.

Con Mika has been added onto a five-man bench.

Watch out Titans: It has become apparent to the Newcastle coaching staff that the Titans have conceded five kick-return line-breaks this season, ranking them equal last in the NRL. This has the Newcastle back three excited.

With Australian representative Kurt Gidley at fullback, former New South Wales winger James McManus on one flank and Fijian international Akuila Uate on the other wing, the Knights are looking to attack from the long kick. Uate especially looks a huge weapon… he is on track to be the competition’s leading try-scorer with 14 thus far and he is killing it in the line-breaks department with 19.

Watch out Knights: Anthony Laffranchi is lifting his game back to his representative level, knowing full well a New South Wales jersey could be forthcoming if he rips in against the Knights.

Laffranchi scored a great individual try against the ’Dogs and is in fact the highest try-scorer amongst forwards over the past five seasons.

He is averaging 106 metres a game this year, has eight line-breaks and six tries, plus he has 18 offloads, making him a distinct threat.

Where it will be won: Goal-line defence. Nrl.com’s Stats Insider revealed in his column yesterday just how vital goal-line defence is in this competition – and the numbers did not read pretty for either of these sides.

The Knights are ranked last in the NRL when it comes to conceding tries from 0-10 metres out from the line, giving up on average 2.21 tries each week. The Titans don’t fare much better with an average two tries conceded each week, ranking them equal 13th, or third last.

If either side is to get a result here they must muscle up when defending the line. The players on the edges need to compress in tight and plug the middle but they need to be able to react quickly if the ball is shifted.

Also, the centres and wingers need to make better judgment calls as to when to jam in hard to cut off the ball. If they continue to defend poorly in this area it won’t matter much who wins, as this will be a killer in the future.

The history:
Played 6; Titans 3, Knights 3. The teams share the head-to-head record at the moment thanks to a 38-36 win by the Titans earlier this season in Newcastle.

The sides have met just twice at Skilled Park, with the ledger squared at one apiece – although the Titans did win the other clash on the holiday strip at Gold Coast Stadium in Carrara back in 2007.
 
Conclusion:
Even without Prince the Titans look the stronger side, provided Bailey and Campbell actually make it onto the field. Indications are they will at this stage, so stick with the home side if this is the case.

If they are pullouts, consider the desperate Knights. Gidley will have to be the spark, as waiting for Jarrod Mullen to fire this year has been like waiting for Harold Holt to re-emerge from the Cheviot Beach surf.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.