The Newcastle Knights take on the Gold Coast Titans from 3pm on Saturday afternoon at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium, with both sides trying to keep their slim finals hopes alive.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Knights have struggled with consistency recently. Last week they got back on track with a close win over the last-placed Eels (18-16). Prior to that, they have played well in patches but have not been able to get the job done against teams who are equal or higher than them on the ladder. Their two wins in that time have both come against the Eels. Their win last week marked Mitchell Pearce’s return in the halves, and he was instrumental in guiding them to a win.
GOLD COAST TITANS
The Titans have struggled for consistency over the past month. Since their round 13 bye, the Titans were close to beating the league-leading Rabbitohs, and beat the Bulldogs and the Tigers comfortably. But the last two weeks have been disappointing, going down the to Broncos 34-0 and a depleted Roosters 20-12 last week. The Titans would have hoped for a better result than an eight-point loss at home in front of 10,000 of their most loyal fans. The game might have been a lot closer if it wasn’t for a controversial try awarded to the Roosters, after young gun Sean O’Sullivan appeared to knock the ball on against the goalpost before grounding the ball in the in-goal.
Sione Mata’utia is out with a concussion, which moves Nathan Ross from the bench to the wing. Lachlan Fitzgibbon returns from suspension on the bench.
GOLD COAST TITANS
Jai Arrow returns at lock, and Keegan Hipgrave returns in the second row. This moves Jarrod Wallace to prop, Moeki Fotuaika and Will Matthews to the bench, with Leilani Latu and Jai Whitbread dropping out of the side.
This game will be their second meeting of 2018. In their first meeting back in round 11, the Titans defended their home field against a valiant Knights, who fought right down to the wire. The Titans won 33-26, but not before Kalyn Ponga produced one of the tries of the season when he ran the length of the field to put the Knights in front midway through the second half. This game will be different however, as the Knights will be without Ponga (nursing a hamstring injury). It’s a big relief for the Titans defense, and they should gain a lot of confidence.
The key battle will be the halfbacks. Pearce’s return could not have come at a better time for the Knights. They ended a six-game home losing streak, and have given themselves an big hit of confidence. Pearce did not look like he had just missed three months of footy with a pec injury. He looked confident in both attack and defense, and was able to take on the line and score a try in his return. It helped free up his halves partner Connor Watson to use his dangerous running game. Look for the Knights to build on Pearce’s successful return by involving him in most of their attacking plays when trying to score points inside the Titans’ half.
Titans halfback Ash Taylor will need to take on Pearce with the youthful and exciting way he plays his footy. He doesn’t have Pearce’s experience, but when he is on, he is one of the best players to watch. Taylor has one of the best short kicking games in the NRL and will need to exploit the Knights’ defense to get his team some repeat sets. Over the past few games he’s struggled to make the impact he would like. With the return of Arrow and Wallace to the starting lineup, look for the Titans forwards to lay a good platform for Taylor to work his magic, and get the Titans in good scoring positions.
The Knights and the Titans have the two worst defensive records in the competition, conceding 444 points and 421 points respectively. No other team in the NRL has conceded more than 400 points so far.
Knights: 1 Nick Meaney, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Cory Denniss, 4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 5 Nathan Ross, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Josh King, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Aidan Guerra, 12 Mitch Barnett, 13 Herman Ese’ese
Interchange: 14 Jamie Buhrer (c), 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 17 Jacob Lillyman
Reserves: 18 Brent Naden, 21 JJ Felise
Titans: 1 Michael Gordon, 2 Anthony Don, 3 Konrad Hurrell, 4 Brenko Lee, 5 Phillip Sami, 6 AJ Brimson, 7 Ashley Taylor, 8 Jarrod Wallace, 9 Nathan Peats, 10 Ryan James (c), 11 Kevin Proctor, 12 Keegan Hipgrave, 13 Jai Arrow
Interchange: 14 Mitch Rein, 15 Moeaki Fotuaika, 16 Jack Stockwell, 17 Will Matthews
Reserves: 18 Leilani Latu, 19 Brendan Elliot
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, July 21
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 3pm AEST
Referees: Gavin Badger, Peter Gough
WHO WILL WIN?
This should be a close game between two desperate sides. Both teams have the ability to attack well when everything goes their way, but their defensive records point to this being a high-scoring game (much like their first encounter this year). With Pearce’s return and the home field advantage, the Knights should be able to back up their win last week.
Knights by four.
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