Sitting in 15th spot on the ladder just about sums up the season for the Titans so far. They played admirably last week in keeping the Storm in check before their crippling injury toll, which saw them without an interchange bench to call upon, saw them eventually succumb. It has amounted to a five-game losing streak for the Gold Coast and puts their finals aspirations under pressure so early in the season.
The Knights are 5-5 going into this contest but have let themselves down the past couple of weeks, with needless errors resulting in back-to-back losses at home against the Rabbitohs and Panthers. They also appear to be missing the influence of halfback Mitchell Pearce, with the inexperience of some of their younger players telling last week. Going into the representative season, an important game awaits for a team on the cusp of the top eight.
Round 9, 2017 – Titans 38 def. Knights 8 at Cbus Super Stadium
Round 2, 2017 – Knights 34 def. Titans 26 at McDonald Jones Stadium
Round 24, 2016 - Titans 26 def. Knights 6 at Hunter Stadium
Round 1, 2016 - Titans 30 def. Knights 12 at Cbus Super Stadium
Round 19, 2015 - Knights 30 def. Titans 2 at Hunter Stadium
Both sides have had success each other in recent matches, with the ledger being squared last season. Both sides finished at the bottom of the ladder last year, however, and the Knights were a much different team compared to last season, so current form will be a better measure.
Nathan Peats returns from a rib injury, pushing Mitch Rein onto the bench. Meanwhile, Jai Arrow is also back from a rib injury, pushing Jarrod Wallace to prop and Max King to the bench. Kevin Proctor is named to play despite a groin tear from Cameron Smith's "wish-bone" tackle last week against the Storm.
Nathan Brown has kept faith with the same side that lost to the Panthers last week, with only Daniel Saifiti replacing Luke Yates on the bench.
|Gold Coast Titans||Newcastle Knights|
|1||Michael Gordon||Kalyn Ponga|
|2||Anthony Don||Ken Sio|
|3||Dale Copley||Sione Mata'utia|
|4||Brenko Lee||Nathan Ross|
|5||Phillip Sami ||Shaun Kenny-Dowall|
|6||AJ Brimson||Connor Watson|
|7||Ashley Taylor||Brock Lamb|
|8||Jarrod Wallace||Herman Ese'ese|
|9||Nathan Peats||Slade Griffin|
|10||Ryan James (c)||Josh King|
|11||Kevin Proctor||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|12||Keegan Hipgrave||Mitchell Barnett|
|13||Jai Arrow||Aiden Guerra (c)|
|14||Mitch Rein||Danny Levi|
|15||Max King||Chris Heighington|
|16||Jack Stockwell||Jacob Saifiti|
|17||Moeaki Fotuaika||Daniel Saifiti|
|18||Bryce Cartwright||Jamie Buhrer|
|19||Konrad Hurrell||Jacob Lillyman|
|20||Kane Elgey||Jack Cogger|
|21||Morgan Boyle||Cory Denisss|
The facts that matter
In the absence of Mitchell Pearce, young Kalyn Ponga seems to be single-handedly capable of winning games for the Knights. He leads the league so far in kick-return metres with 544m run, better than the likes of James Tedesco and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. That's backed up by his 73 tackle breaks. He can't do it on his own though. He needs support from his other teammates. The Knights are at the top with their completion rate sitting at 79%. They need to maintain that consistency and bring young halves Connor Watson and Brock Lamb into the spotlight. With the Knights making 29 line break assists this season, if it works to plan, Ponga could then burst the game wide open.
The Titans are struggling in all aspects of defense, giving up a league-leading 27 points per game, with their tackle effectiveness proving costly (173 to date). They have also conceded 98 penalties meaning they are already quite weary when up against it in their own half. They will need to be careful of repeated infringements on their line. On the positive side, they welcome back a stronger pack with Queensland hopeful Arrow coming back into lock, and Nathan Peats, a solid runner, back into hooker. If Ashley Taylor, who again looked commanding early on against the Storm, is going to have a chance of breaching the Knights defense, the halfback will need their input. He has been quite selective in his plays, and you would think, with the Knights halves combination being relatively unsettled at best, this is his chance to be more aggressive and take the ascendency.
Both teams are desperate to return to the winner's circle. The Knights had been playing much better football until the last two weeks while the Titans have really looked out of sorts, placing way too much reliance on Ashley Taylor to create their chances. The same could be said of the Knights and Kalyn Ponga With the Knights' halves combination looking out of touch, and the return of Arrow and Peats to bolster their pack, this could be the chance for Garth Brennan's side to snap their losing streak.
It could be a closer game than you think, but the Titans should get home by four points.