Round 11: Titans v Knights preview
The challenges that come with being the rookie coach of a struggling team are a very present reality for Garth Brennan as his Titans look to arrest a five match losing streak.
Valiant in defeat against the Storm last Saturday, a horror injury toll throughout the match saw the Gold Coast placed under insurmountable pressure with no interchanges to draw upon. Having shocked pundits who predicted the battling Queensland outfit to have no chance of winning against the reigning premiers, a lack of fresh reserves and overall inexperience saw the Titans concede 14 points in the final quarter of play to go down in an otherwise optimistic performance.
Enduring a difficult period brought on by a fledgling roster, the hardships endured on the Gold Coast are likely to persist for the remainder of 2018. However, with a number of promising youngsters such as Moeaki Fotuaika and Alexander Brimson making in-roads in recent weeks, the perseverance and development will ultimately be beneficial as the hard road experienced by their weekend opponents can attest to.
Having been forced to endure significant travel brought on by the Commonwealth Games, Saturday's fixture will be only the third time this season the Titans have played on the Gold Coast - the least of any team in the competition. While the effects of travel impact upon each of the 16 NRL clubs to varying degrees, for a club that has been overwhelmingly mediocre this decade, the challenges better sides are versed in overcoming impact upon battlers like the Titans to a greater degree.
Receiving better than expected news following last week's injury nightmare, Queensland hopeful Jai Arrow has been named to return while incumbent New South Wales hooker Nathan Peats will play his first game in over a month. Relegating battling star signing Bryce Cartwright to 18th man duties, further changes could be imminent pending the final fitness of Kevin Proctor and Keegan Hipgrave.
Having started 2018 in tremendous fashion to record five wins over the opening two months, a pair of subpar performances on home soil sees the Knights in a precarious situation heading towards the representative period.
Lacking the calming influence provided by Mitchell Pearce, the decision to make a series of changes proved telling in last week's loss to Penrith, with the inexperience of Josh King, Connor Watson, Daniel Saifiti and Luke Yates all contributing to the end result as a result of costly contributions.
While the knee-jerk reaction to recent disappointment stemming from the side's young players would appear to be dropping them back to reserve grade, the opportunity to redeem themselves on the weekend should inspire a much stronger performance from a Newcastle outfit wavering between finals contenders and also-rans.
In addition, with coach Nathan Brown making a statement by dropping a number of the club's experienced forwards following the South Sydney loss, the potential of penalising young players for one poor performance while reinstating senior members of the playing group who haven't addressed key areas of concern has potentially detrimental consequences on the confidence and expectations of the entire first grade roster.
Holding a positive overall record against the Titans, recent meetings between the two sides haven't fared too well for the Knights. Losing three of the past four meetings, the only current squad member to have won on the Gold Coast while representing Newcastle is Sione Mata'utia back in 2015 - playing just his tenth match in the NRL.
- Of the 18 matches contested since 2007, the Knights lead the leger win ten wins and eight losses. In matches played at CBUS Super Stadium, the Knights hold a slender majority with four wins from seven clashes; however the Titans have won the past two fixtures held at the venue.
- In 15 of the 18 matches played between the Gold Coast and Newcastle, the winning team held the lead at halftime. However, in an interesting trend from 2017, in both the Round 2 and 9 meetings, the Knights and Titans claimed victory after trailing at the change of ends.
- With both sides boasting a number of accomplished attacking threats, expect scoring to follow historical trends which has seen the winning side post 30 points or more in 11 of the 18 matches played.
Personal Duel - Anthony Don v Shaun Kenny-Dowall
As a mature-aged debutant for the Gold Coast back in 2013, the 30-year-old winger has been a pillar of consistency for the Titans in recent years with his on-field contributions outshining a number of his higher-paid colleagues. Approaching a century of appearances in the NRL, the Country Origin representative is an unassuming, yet highly effective player capable of getting the basics right and producing spectacular finishes to boot.
Renown for his rocks-or-diamonds performances, the New Zealand international has flourished since linking up with the Knights midway through last season with his yardage work providing plenty of support for the developing Newcastle pack. Capable of a fair share of brain snaps that can be costly for his teammates, the 30-year-old outside back is often quick to make amends with a powerful run or aerobatic feat changing the momentum of a match for the better.
While the pair will be on opposite sides of the field during the Round 11 fixture, the chances of either team coming away with a much-needed win will likely be impacted by whether ‘The Don' or SKD leaves an imprint on the contest.
Saturday's match is a must-win for both clubs. With the Titans ahead of only Parramatta on the premiership table, the need to keep distance from wooden spoon territory is of vital importance in appeasing stakeholders. While after proving their worth with early season scalps, the Knights have to account for lowly-ranked rivals if they are to be any chance of featuring in September. If the Knights can get their starts right they should come away with two points, however signs of promise amid adversity will ensure the home side produces a good account of themselves. Knights by 8.