Newcastle extends Titans' Knight-mare
Newcastle coach Rick Stone has praised the composure of his young playmakers who were forced to find a match-winning try in the dying stages of their clash with the Titans on Sunday without chief playmaker Jarrod Mullen on the field.
A try in the final four minutes to Knights back-rower Jeremy Smith enabled the Knights to extend their unbeaten start to the season to three wins with a 20-18 victory over a desperate Titans team at Cbus Super Stadium, overcoming a deficit in the second half for the third consecutive week.
Two second half tries to Gold Coast five-eighth Aidan Sezer promised to give Gold Coast a long-awaited win, but poor discipline in the final few minutes allowed the Knights to land the killer blow.
Leading 18-14 with 17 minutes remaining, successive kicks out-on-the-full by Gold Coast halfback Daniel Mortimer invited Newcastle to set up camp in the Titans' territory but they took until the final few minutes to take advantage, hooker Adam Clydsdale playing short to Smith close to the line who cruised through a tired Titans defence to score the match-winner under the posts.
Mullen was forced from the field with six minutes still to play following a tackle for which Titans lock Greg Bird was placed on report so along with captain Kurt Gidley it was left to Tyrone Roberts and Clydsdale to get their team across the line in the 76th minute.
"I was really proud that we held a bit of composure at the end. We had to score a try, we had to come up with a try at some stage," said Stone, who stated that Mullen experienced some tingling in his shoulder as he left the field and would be assessed further in the coming days.
"[Mullen] is our main playmaker but even with Kurt off the field at certain stages and Jarrod off the field I think our other boys are getting a bit more belief.
"I thought Tyrone Roberts stood up pretty well for us in key periods and Adam laid on the last try but I think everyone is starting to believe in themselves a little bit more and starting to evolve as playmakers rather than leaving everything possibly to Kurt and Jarrod."
The Titans have now lost two games at home by a combined total of three points to start the season and it was clear very early that the returns of Greg Bird, Dave Taylor and Beau Falloon to the team had a positive effect on the performance.
"There's three points and we could be two wins and four points but we're not and we need to look at reasons for why we aren't and then convert that into points and being more consistent as a team," said coach Neil Henry.
"We welcomed back some players and they'll be better for that run as well and we need to get a bit more cohesion with what we're doing with the ball.
"I didn't expect them to go out to try and prove any points, but to just go out there and play footy and that's what they did. 'Birdy' was tanking there but hanging in and played big minutes and Dave was the same. They're short of a run, there's no doubt about that but they and Beauy Falloon, they did their job out there."
With almost two-thirds of possession in the first half the Knights took a 14-6 advantage into the main break courtesy of tries to Beau Scott and Dane Gagai with a penalty goal on the verge of half-time to Tyrone Roberts extending the lead to eight points.
Sezer then single-handedly brought his team back into the contest when he followed his own bomb in the 44th minute and then Knights fullback Sione Mata'utia inexplicably let the ball bounce on his try-line, it was Sezer who gladly grabbed the spoils.
With torrential rain forcing both teams to adopt a conservative approach in the middle stages of the second half, it was a break down-field by Anthony Don in the 63rd minute that gave the Titans free space to play in.
A shift to centre field found Mortimer who passed inside to a charging Ryan Simpkins who in turn offloaded to Sezer for an unimpeded 20 metre run to put his team in front with 17 minutes left on the clock.
The Titans continued to have the better of play as the half wore on but the two poor kicks from Mortimer and repeated penalties in their own half – Eddy Pettybourne and Greg Bird were both placed on report in the final 11 minutes – gave the Knights one too many opportunities to consign Gold Coast to a 0-3 start to 2015.
The Titans were boosted by the returns of Greg Bird and Dave Taylor but it was Beau Falloon who had the most immediate influence, darting out of dummy-half and getting the Titans' sets rolling nicely in the opening 40 minutes.
Having been denied the opening try of the game eight days ago, Anthony Don was awarded first points as he finished off a well executed Titans move on their first excursion into Knights territory.
On the back of a penalty against Jeremy Smith, Kade Snowden and Korbin Sims for a lifting tackle on Ryan James, the Titans fanned out to the left 20 metres from Newcastle's line. Falloon jumped out of dummy-half to engage the Knights defence and when Sezer cut out Josh Hoffman with a perfectly-timed pass for William Zillman the Gold Coast left centre had to simply draw and pass to put Don on a path towards the south-east corner.
Despite their bright start the warning signs were developing in the Titans' defence around the middle of the ruck but Beau Scott could not have imagined scoring an easier try than that which was laid on for him in the 12th minute.
In a simple wrap-around play sweeping from left to right, Kurt Gidley was able to put Scott through a gaping hole between Sezer and James to stroll across untouched from 10 metres out, Tyrone Roberts' successful conversion levelling the scores at 6-all.
The Knights crossed again six minutes later through a blistering, arcing run by Gagai, but it was not without controversy.
Awarded as a try by the on-field officials before examination by the video referees, replays seemed to indicate that Sims had knocked on in the lead-up to Gagai receiving the ball from Jarrod Mullen but after some half dozen views the on-field decision was confirmed and the Knights jumped out to a 12-6 lead.
With more than 65 per cent of possession through the opening quarter of the game the Knights continued to hammer away at the Titans' line but were unable to find a third try for the half, Gold Coast at one point repelling three sets on their own tryline.
The only other points for the half came courtesy of a penalty goal to Roberts after the Titans failed to recover sufficiently from a Gagai intercept 40 metres out and transgressed in the ruck as he attempted to play the ball.
The main injury concerns for the Knights will be five-eighth Jarrod Mullen leaving the field with concerns over his neck following a late hit by Bird with seven minutes to play and a leg injury to Gagai that troubled him but did not force him from the field.
Newcastle Knights 20 (Beau Scott, Dane Gagai, Jeremy Smith tries; Tyrone Roberts 4 goals) def. Gold Coast Titans 18 (Aidan Sezer 2, Anthony Don tries; Sezer 3 goals). Half-time: Knights 14-6. Crowd: 6,962. On report: Eddy Pettybourne (Titans, 69th minute), Greg Bird (Titans, 74th).