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2021 NRL Round Five Preview, Titans Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews this Round Five clash between the Gold Coast Titans and the Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast, Date: Saturday 10th April, Time: 3:00pm AEST

Titans Team

1. AJ Brimson
2. Phillip Sami
3. Brian Kelly
4. Patrick Herbert
5. Corey Thompson
6. Tanah Boyd
7. Jamal Fogarty
8. Jarrod Wallace
9. Mitch Rein
10. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11. Kevin Proctor
12. David Fifita
13. Tyrone Peachey
14. Moeaki Fotuaika
15. Sam Lisone
16. Jaimin Jolliffe
17. Erin Clark
18. Beau Fermor
19. Herman Ese’ese
20. Sam McIntyre
21. Ashley Taylor

Team Changes

IN: Ashley Taylor, Beau Fermor, Brian Kelly, Herman Ese’ese, Sam McIntyre

OUT: Anthony Don

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Starford To’a
3. Enari Tuala
4. Gehamat Shibasaki
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Connor Watson
7. Blake Green
8. David Klemmer
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Daniel Saifiti
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Mitchell Barnett
13. Sauaso Sue
14. Chris Randall
15. Pasami Saulo
16. Josh King
17. Brodie Jones
18. Jack Johns
19. Brayden Musgrove
20. Simi Sasagi
21. Garrett Smith

Team Changes

IN: Brayden Musgrove, Brodie Jones, Chris Randall, Garrett Smith, Jack Johns, Kalyn Ponga, Pasami Saulo, Simi Sasagi

OUT: Jacob Saifiti, Kurt Mann, Mitchell Pearce, Tex Hoy

Referee: Ashley Klein

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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Titans

The improving Gold Coast Titans have started the season much like most people expected a young team with a host of new players would: some passages of inconsistency mixed with plenty of moments of brilliance. After a disappointing loss to open the season against the Warriors, the Titans made easy work of their fellow Queensland clubs the Broncos and Cowboys.

Last week was a chance for Justin Holbrook’s team to test themselves against Canberra, one of the competition’s better sides: despite going down 20-4, the young Titans showed plenty of character and promise of good things to come for the club.

The leading try scorer Anthony Don has picked up an injury and will miss this week’s game, whilst halfback and co-captain Jamal Fogarty has been named, but will be racing the clock to prove his fitness after failing to finish last week’s match with a quad injury. Ash Taylor has been named in the No.21 jersey and could be a late inclusion to the side, although the club may take the cautious approach and hold him back for another week.

Knights

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Where do we start with the Newcastle Knights? The competition is only four weeks old but it’s already looking like another rollercoaster ride for second year coach Adam O’Brien and his team. After entering the season with a long list of injuries, things have only gotten worse for the Knights: they finished last week’s loss to the Dragons with just one fit player on the bench.

Former captain Mitchell Pearce was the biggest casualty as he ruptured his left pectoral muscle; this is the second time Pearce has suffered this injury since he joined the Knights, although it was his right pec that he injured in 2018. A hamstring injury to fullback Tex Hoy will see him miss a month of action, whilst Kurt Mann suffered a sickening concussion and will miss at least a week.

The good news for the Knights is that star fullback and marquee-man Kalyn Ponga will make his long-awaited return from a shoulder reconstruction. After missing the first month of the season, he will be raring to go and his injury-depleted team will get a boost from his presence on the field. Newcastle will be desperate to bounce back after losing back-to-back games at home: another loss here against the Titans will leave the club reeling on a three-game losing streak after what was supposed to be a ‘soft’ start to the season.

PREVIEW

Two teams – both with two wins and two losses to start the season: a season where both teams have finals aspirations and although it’s too early in the season to be looking at the table, nether side will want to drop another two competition points, especially against a direct rival for a top eight spot. It’s games like this that count for for more in the final wash-up; in essence, this game is a four-competition-point match.

This time last season, the Titans were seen as ‘easy beats’ and a finals berth was at least two-three years away. Fast forward a year and the improvement Holbrook has gotten out of his team is remarkable; not only did they finish just one win out of the eight last year, but now they’re realistically dreaming of playing finals football in September.

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Newcastle, on the other hand, seem to be treading water and the progression from this point last season is minimal if anything; yes, injuries have hampered them for a while now, enough for their fans to justifiably feel they’ve been cursed, but there are still aspects of their game they just don’t seem to be able to fix.

Their lack of cohesion in attack and last play options hampered them throughout last season, and the early signs in 2021 are that not much has changed; whilst the injuries to Pearce, Hoy and Mann totally threw out any resemblance of structure or shape the Knights had on the weekend, and their last play kicks left a lot to be desired. Pearce had a kick charged down early by Tariq Sims: despite this, the Knights seemed to ignore the warning as a second charge down by Sims led to a try.

Newcastle will need little reminder that the Titans are not the side you want to be serving up poor kicks to, especially with AJ Brimson at the back; it was in the final round of last year where Brimson tore the Knights to shreds on the back of no less than three poor kick chases that led to tries. Brimson scored a double that night whilst setting up a couple more, and with a dry track and early kick-off awaiting them, the Knights must be wary of what damage the Titans’ fullback can cause them.

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The Titans’ weapons don’t just stop there though: with the new additions of big Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita in the pack, the Knights will have their hands full containing the size and speed the Titans posses, especially with a patched up team due to no less than 11 players from their top 30 being unavailable for this match. Although the numbers seem to suggest the Knights are facing an impossible mission, their line-up still boasts numerous representative players.

The inclusion of Ponga is no doubt the best news the Knights could have asked for coming off the back of last week’s match: although he is just one player and can’t plug all the holes O’Brien’s ship has, the spark and X-factor he brings to their attack will help take the pressure off Blake Green (who will be starting at halfback).

Green himself is fresh from returning from an ACL injury, and would not have expected to be running the team on his own, but with Ponga and fill-in five-eighth Connor Watson predominately ball runners, Green will be doing most of the directing and kicking with Ponga and Watson adding the flair.

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KEY STAT

The Gold Coast have enjoyed a good run of results at home against the Knights, winning their last five match-ups at Cbus Super Stadium. You have to go all the way back to March 2015 to find the Knights’ last victory on the ‘Glitter Strip’, where a late Jeremy Smith try sealed a 20-18 victory.

PREDICTION

With the Titans’ form on the rise each week – and the Knights’ heavy injury toll – it’s hard to go past Holbrook’s team here in this clash. The Titans bring so much size and speed to their game, which will be a handful for any team to contain, let alone a side patched up with bandages. I expect Newcastle to improve on their last two showings, but the Titans need to be winning this match if they are going to be a top eight team.

Titans 1-12.

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