Schick Preview: Gold Coast Titans v Newcastle Knights
Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday, 5.30pm AEDT
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
The words of great American horror writer HP Lovecraft will resonate strongly with fans of both the Titans and Knights as dramatically remodelled rosters take the field with the initial aim to prove the doubters wrong.
Titans coach Neil Henry will unveil a completely new halves pairing in Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor along with new recruits Nathan Friend, David Shillington, Chris McQueen and Zeb Taia while Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has named a club record five debutants including the Saifiti twins, Jacob and Daniel.
Given both teams are unfancied this season, two points and the confidence a win will bring is absolutely critical at this time of the year.
Watch out Titans: Sione Mata'utia and Jake Mamo had been touted as the players to succeed Kurt Gidley as Knights fullback but former Bulldogs junior Jaelen Feeney has trumped them both to get the nod for Round 1. Pivotal in the halves in Newcastle's NSW Cup premiership win last season, Feeney was 18th man three times for the NRL team and now finally gets his chance in the top grade. A Queensland under-20s representative in 2014, it is fitting that the Nerang Roosters junior makes his first grade debut in front of friends and family on the Gold Coast.
Watch out Knights: He's somewhat of a gentle giant but teammates have seen a fire in the eyes of prop David Shillington that they predict will see the former Raider back to his best. With Test and Origin experience Shillington brings a 'follow me' style of leadership to the Titans very much in the mould of former skipper Nate Myles. A prolific offloader of the footy, Shillington will give the Titans plenty of second-phase options which will disrupt the Knights defence and provide opportunities for the likes of Will Zillman and David Mead in mid-field. Gold Coast boasts a very experienced forward pack in 2016 and that platform for the backs will all start with a Shillington charge.
Key Match-up: Tyrone Roberts v Trent Hodkinson. When combinations are very much in their infancy the role of the halfback to keep the team's course steady is all the more important, so much rests with the two new No.7s. Facing off against the club where he played 97 NRL games in his first game for the Titans, Roberts will be the senior partner alongside under-20s player of the year Ashley Taylor and eager to show that the Knights had a first-class half already on their books. Hodkinson comes into the Knights set-up as the incumbent NSW half and surrounded by a bunch of talented kids that coach Nathan Brown has decided are ready for the deep end. Last tackle options, completed sets and turning four points into six; they are the crucial responsibilities both men have ahead of them.
The History: Played 14; Titans 5, Knights 9. A controversial try to Dane Gagai and a perfect evening of goal-kicking from Tyrone Roberts saw the Knights edge past the Titans in Round 3 at Cbus last season and then Gold Coast produced one of their worst displays of the year in going down 30-2 in Newcastle in Round 19. The Knights have won four times in five visits to Robina, their only loss coming in Round 1, 2009 (34-20).
What are the Odds? Titans $2.07, Knights $1.74. Not the biggest betting game of the round with Sportsbet but the flow of money has been for this year's wooden spoon favourites, the Titans, up against last year's spooners, the Knights. There's 50 per cent more invested on the Gold Coast in head-to-head betting, but when it comes to the winning margin, it’s all 1-12 for the Titans rather than 13-plus. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee: Chris James; Touch Judges: Clayton Sharpe and Peter Gough; Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Matt Cecchin; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 6.30pm AEDT
The way we see it: Youth and enthusiasm can be an exhilarating mix but when it comes to the crunch it will be the senior players on both sides that will determine the victor. Hodkinson will be eager to show his knee troubles are behind him and form a productive partnership with Jarrod Mullen while up front the likes of Kade Snowden, Jeremy Smith and Robbie Rochow have to lead the way. On paper the Titans have a greater balance of youth and experience and on their home turf should do enough to start 2016 with a win. Titans by eight points.