Free Bird instrumental in Titans win
Greg Bird's roving commission has paid first-up dividends for the Gold Coast Titans with the New South Wales back-rower orchestrating a 30-12 win over the Newcastle Knights at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday evening.
Having laid on a first-half try for Agnatius Paasi with a deft short ball at the line, Bird looked longer early in the second half, using quick hands to cut out two players and hit Anthony Don on the chest who scored in the corner.
With eight players making their first appearances for the club, the Titans pounced early and kept the Knights at bay for the majority of the contest, scoring three tries in the space of nine minutes early in the second half to open up a sizeable lead in intermittently torrential rain.
The arrival of both Zeb Taia and Chris McQueen over the off-season has pushed Bird into the No.13 jersey but rather than domiciling himself in the middle third, he has been given a licence to roam, mixing tough defence with edge running and clever ball-playing like the locks of yesteryear.
With Tyrone Roberts taking responsibility for the majority of the Titans' kicking game, Bird's influence also freed up Ashley Taylor to work his way into the game, the former Titans co-captain playing the first 53 minutes before earning a spell.
In his first game for the Titans and just his second NRL start, a clever chip kick from Taylor saw John Olive open the scoring in the 14th minute and then a grubber through the Knights' defensive line caught a deflection before Zeb Taia pounced to score in the 47th minute.
With momentum running their way in torrential rain, the Titans received an extraordinary slice of luck in the 53rd minute when Daniel Mortimer shanked a kick on the last tackle 30 metres out from the Knights line only for it to fall straight into the arms of winger Don.
The Titans flyer then put the ball on the toe, regathered before Jaelen Feeney could intercept it and pushed past the Knights fullback to score his second in the space of nine minutes.
Both teams were guilty of handing over possession in the early exchanges but completed at better than 80 per cent in the first quarter of the game, the deadlock finally broken when late Titans addition John Olive scored his first NRL try in the 14th minute.
Able to build pressure on the back of a second consecutive set of tackles, Taylor went to the Newcastle defence before dinking a chip kick out wide, the ball evading the grasp of Josh Hoffman and spilling directly into the path of Olive on the wing.
The Titans doubled their advantage in the 20th minute when Paasi burst onto a Bird pass to run 25 metres to score but some quick thinking from Korbin Sims allowed the Knights to hit back almost instantly.
Sims stripped an unsuspecting Taylor of possession on the second tackle right under the goalposts and then three tackles later Pat Mata'utia ran off a short Jarrod Mullen pass to score out wide in his maiden NRL start.
The rain set in at the half hour mark and handling dropped away accordingly, the Knights making five errors to the Titans' four as the home side took a 12-6 lead into half-time.
The Knights clawed one try back through debutant Daniel Saifiti 12 minutes from full-time but also had Pauli Pauli placed on report for a late hit on Titans back-rower Leivaha Pulu.
Gold Coast Titans 30 (Anthony Don 2, John Olive, Agnatius Paasi, Zeb Taia tries; Tyrone Roberts 5 goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 12 (Pat Mata'utia, Daniel Saifiti tries; Trent Hodkinson 2 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Penalties: 8-6 Titans. Half-time: Titans 12-6. Crowd: 8,313. On report: Pauli Pauli (Knights).