Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans
Like pushing the lawnmower over a rock in the backyard, this is a match Gold Coast would be wise to approach with some trepidation.
A heart-stopping win over the Wests Tigers last Saturday elevated Hayne Mania to a new stratosphere while 24 hours later the Knights were copping the latest in what has been a season of hidings.
With other results having fallen their way a win would put the Titans within reach of a long-awaited finals appearance while for the Knights whatever happens on Saturday will put them one game closer to the end of a season they'd much rather forget.
Which is why it looms as such a dangerous game for the Gold Coasters.
Only poor preparation and lack of mental application can get in their way but they are two elements that the young Novocastrians will pounce on if they sense an opportunity to secure just their second win of the year.
Their energy levels have been given a significant boost with the addition of livewire winger Nathan Ross with Pat Mata'utiua making way and Jeremy Smith and Pauli Pauli added to an extended 19-man squad.
Pending the result of Ryan James's appearance at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night the Titans have named the same 17 that accounted for the Tigers, adding Leivaha Pulu to an extended interchange bench as cover.
Watch out Knights: He may not be the one at the top of Nathan Brown's tip sheet but former University of Newcastle graduate Anthony Don is quickly becoming a key member of this Titans outfit. After a double against the Wests Tigers last weekend the lanky winger has nabbed 12 for the season and his 24 over the past two years is well clear of any other player at the club. And he knows Hunter Stadium well having worked there as a waiter to earn some pocket money whilst studying PE teaching. He had four tries scored on him by James McManus at the venue three years ago but with four tries in six games against the Knights Don will be out to add to his happier memories on Saturday.
Watch out Titans: Facing off against a team that can barely see the light after 14 losses on the trot the last thing the Titans want to do is to allow a young team down on confidence to get off on the right foot. Unlucky not to take a narrow lead into the second half against the Panthers the Knights couldn't go with Penrith in the second half which has mirrored many of their games this season. Newcastle have scored only two tries in the opening 10 minutes of games all season so the Titans need to keep them quiet early otherwise the Newcastle faithful who continue to turn up in big numbers may inspire their team to cause an upset.
Key match-up: Dane Gagai v Josh Hoffman. They are cousins from Mackay who are more like brothers which adds an extra layer of meaning to two players who have been outstanding for their teams this season. Gagai has been undeniably one of Newcastle's best in the club's worst ever year and a win over his cousin would at least give him one fond memory to look back on from 2016. Hoffman has made a terrific transition to the centres this season and his sharp left foot step has been causing opposition defences all sorts of problems in recent weeks. Gagai has Hoffman covered for tackle busts (74-59) and try assists (4-2) but Hoffman has seven tries to Gagai's two and fewer missed tackles. If either gets a try on Saturday expect a special celebration.
History: Played 15; Knights 9. Titans 6. Gold Coast's 30-12 Round 1 win was their biggest ever against Newcastle and broke a run of two consecutive defeats to the Novocastrians. The Knights have won four of the past six meetings but the Titans have had success at Hunter Stadium in the past. Their last win in 2014 coincided with the 'Rise for Alex' Round where more than 26,000 fans crammed into the ground to pay Alex McKinnon an emotional tribute. Only eight players who played that day are lining up again this Saturday.
What are the odds: Knights $4.40, Titans $1.20. Sportsbet punters aren't keen on the Knights' chances with just seven per cent of the money backing them to defeat the Titans. In margin betting, all the money has been for Gold Coast to win by 13-plus. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch Judges: Kasey Badger and Jason Walsh; Review Officials: Ben Galea and Jason Robinson; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2.30pm.
How we see it: Only a complete mental meltdown could prevent the Titans from taking a further step towards a finals appearance against a brave but ultimately outclassed Newcastle team. The Round 1 encounter where Gold Coast turned a 12-6 lead into a 30-12 win gave an indicator of what was to come for the Knights who have been able to record just the one win all season. The Titans have previously struggled with favouritism but this is one they should win and win well. Titans by 14 points.