The Gold Coast Titans took one huge step towards their first finals campaign in six seasons following their 26-6 win over the Newcastle Knights, and for once it wasn't their exhilarating backs who produced the killer blow.
Gold Coast fundamentals undo Knights
The Titans' four tries were fairly routine four-pointers. Basic hit-ups or unders balls were the order of the day, particularly in the first 20 minutes. More importantly, the Titans were able to back it up in defence. They showed their resolve early when David Mead denied Brendan Elliot in the opening five minutes, and held their own for the remainder of the contest. Will Pearsall, Dane Gagai and Elliot again were all denied by desperate Titans defence in the final quarter of the game.
"We showed our pride there with our defence," Titans coach Neil Henry said post-game.
"It was a pretty dour affair really the second half. We scored our points early and we didn't give them too many opportunities with our scramble there late in the game when they had a bit of possession."
Finals puzzle almost complete
The Titans' 20-point win has created a three competition point buffer between eighth and ninth position on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder. The Warriors' 34-6 loss to North Queensland on Saturday night has left their season in a precarious position, the same position the Dragons and Wests Tigers find themselves in. Neither Henry nor retiring Titans co-captain Nathan Friend were getting ahead of themselves despite their finals fate being set in stone if they claim a win over the final fortnight.
"Penrith have been outstanding lately. It'll be a real good test for us and our last game is up in Townsville. It's tight. We need to win another game," Henry said coolly.
Friend added: "Hopefully all the stars align for my last game at home, it'll be nice to finish up on a victory."
Forward frenzy from the Gold Coast
The script was written for wingers Anthony Don and Nene Macdonald to score plenty of tries between them. They didn't cross at all. Instead it was their forwards who would combine for all of the Gold Coast's four-pointers. Tries to co-captain Ryan James (who scored twice), back-rower Chris McQueen and veteran Luke Douglas was enough for the visitors. Henry was also pleased with how James responded from conjecture surrounding his jaw-breaking tackle on Wests Tigers' James Tedesco last weekend.
"The backs were taking the credit for the getting them down there," Henry laughed.
"It's a good sign though, isn't it? If you're going through them, in nice and tight, it means your big guys are taking on that challenge."
Hayne's quiet outing
His 13 NRL Fantasy points says it all: Hayne didn't produce much in Newcastle and nor did he have to. While many expected Hayne and the Titans' host of quality backs to rip the Knights to shreds, it wasn't to be. Aided by the return of halfback Tyrone Roberts, Hayne helped maintain their possession off the back of his kicking game. Unfortunately the former San Francisco 49er was concussed in the final 15 minutes when a tackle on Daniel Saifiti went awry.
"He's OK. He was a bit concussed after he was caught in the wrong position there," Henry said.
"He also has a cork to the calf as well so we thought it'd be easier to leave him off. He should be fine. He could've gone back on if we needed him."
Proud day for The Entrance Tigers
"When we introduced the two Saifiti boys, they really helped us swing the momentum to make the game a really good contest for 55 minutes," Knights coach Nathan Brown said following the loss.
The Knights were in trouble in the first 20 minutes. Without naming names, Brown alluded to three players he was particularly unimpressed by. Things changed immediately when he put the Saifiti twins on, who combined for 228 metres and 80 tackles by game's end. All-in-all it was a positive day for The Entrance juniors, who were joined in the NRL for the first time by fellow Tigers alumni in five-eighth Pearsall and fullback Jake Mamo.