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2021 NRL Round 24 Preview, Knights Vs Titans

Julian Vella previews the opening game of the weekend and Round 24 between the Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Sunshine Coast Stadium, Sunshine Coast, Date: Thursday, August 26th, Time: 7:50pm AEST

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Enari Tuala
3. Kurt Mann
4. Bradman Best
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Jake Clifford
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Sauaso Sue
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Jacob Saifiti
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Mitch Barnett
13. Connor Watson
14. Brodie Jones
15. Chris Randall
16. Josh King
17. Jirah Momoisea
18. Jack Johns
19. Pasami Saulo
20. Simi Sasagi
21. Phoenix Crossland

Team Changes

IN: Tyson Frizell, Jack Johns, Pasami Saulo, Phoneix Crossland,
OUT: David Klemmer

Titans Team

1. Jayden Campbell
2. Phillip Sami
3. Brian Kelly
4. Patrick Herbert
5. Corey Thompson
6. Tyrone Peachey
7. Jamal Fogarty
8. Jarrod Wallace
9. Mitch Rein
10. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Beau Fermor
13. Sam McIntyre
14. Erin Clark
15. David Fifita
16. Moeaki Fotuaika
17. Jaimin Jolliffe
18. Toby Sexton
19. Sam Lisone
20. Esarn Marsters
21. Greg Marzhew

Team Changes

IN: Mitch Rein, Moeaki Fotuaika, Toby Sexton, Esarn Marsters
OUT:
Ash Taylor

Referee: Grant Atkins

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Knights

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The Knights will play their second home against a Queensland side in Queensland in the past month, a true reflection of the strange times we live in at the moment. Newcastle have an awful record in Queensland against Queensland sides, especially the Gold Coast Titans who have handed the Knights a few heavy losses at Cbus Super Stadium in recent years. But the Knights have defied their recent struggles in the Sunshine State to win four games on the bounce to put themselves in seventh position on the ladder, with just two games to go and a four-point gap between them and the closest rival, the Knights only need one more competition point to secure their second consecutive finish in seventh place.

The Knights rarely get through a game unscathed, and despite not picking up any injuries in their close win over the Bulldogs, veteran forward David Klemmer was cited and charged with contrary conduct for an incident in the 77th minute. This has cost Klemmer a one-game suspension and left the Knights’ already wounded pack extra light this week: with Daniel Saifiti and Lachlan Fitzgibbon already out the last thing Adam O’Brien needed was to lose another experienced forward.

O’Brien will welcome back Tyson Frizell, who himself is returning from a one-game suspension. Frizell will slip back into his usual right edge backrow position, with Brodie Jones reverting to the bench. Hard-hitting forward Sauose Sue will take Klemmer’s spot in the front row, whilst Jirah Momoisea retains his spot on the bench after making his debut last week, the young forward can expect more minutes this week to help fill the void left by Klemmer’s absence.

Titans

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For large parts of last week’s clash against the record-breaking Melbourne Storm, the Titans were in fact the better side and jumped out to an early 10-0 lead. Despite relinquishing that lead the Titans bounced back and took a 16-10 lead into halftime; with an upset on the cards against the Storm – who were gunning for a record equalling 19th straight win – this was the Titans’ chance to finally secure a win against one of the top six sides in the competition. But just like they did against the Roosters, Eels, and Manly the Titans couldn’t go with the job, as the competition leaders stepped up a gear in the second half.

Gold Coast have threaten to take a big scalp this year in the matches mentioned, but each time they’ve wasted good starts and crumbled under the pressure. In the fact as the ladder stands the highest ranked side the Titans have beaten this season is in fact the Newcastle Knights. The Titans are currently in ninth position and need to win both of their remaining games to secure a finals berth, with their for-and-against now 14 points worse off than the Sharks, who are also battling for eighth spot, wining just the one game will probably leave them short, and likely result in a second consecutive finish in ninth position.

Justin Holbrook has made a host of changes to his side, including the big call to drop marquee five-eighth Ash Taylor from the team and replaced him with utility Tyrone Peachey. Off-contract at the end of the season, and almost certain not to be offered a new deal, Taylor has most likely played his last game for Gold Coast. Winger Greg Marzhew has paid the price for the Titans’ poor right edge defence, replaced by Phillip Sami. Whilst Queensland forward Moe Fotuaika returns on the interchange and is joined by David Fifita who form a scary bench for the Titans.

PREVIEW

Both teams head into this game with plenty at stake, and although the Knights are seemingly safe in regards to securing a top eight finish, the Titans need to win both of their games to secure a first finals appearance since 2016. The Titans will feel confident heading into this clash, despite losing two games on in a row against competition heavyweights Rabbitohs and Storm, Holbrook’s side generally match up much better against more level opposition.

The majority of the Titans’ best wins this season have come on the back of marquee player Fifita: the star forward has scored an impressive 14 tries so far in 2021, and in matches won by the Gold Coast Fifita averages over a try per game with nine in eight matches. That’s not the only statistic that increases for Fifita in games won by the Titans: his numbers for run metres, post contact metres, offloads, tackle breaks, and overall touches of the ball increase in victories, whilst his line-breaks are more than double in matches won.

Maybe more telling the numbers which increase for Fifita in losing matches are his tackles and overall minutes played. He averages two more tackles and four minutes extra per match when the Titans lose, which doesn’t seem like much, but when you look at the rate that the rest of his attacking stats drop in losses, the extra minutes and workload clearly take a toll on him. The Titans have clearly taken note of these numbers, which is why they’ve been using him off the bench in recent weeks; he is their best attacking weapon, and the best way for the Knights to nullify him is to make him do more work in defence.

If Newcastle have identified this trend, then we can expect the Knights to send lots of traffic at him once he enters the game; the Knights like to attack predominately down their left side of attack, which exactly where Fifita has been defending in recent weeks. The last time these two sides met he ran riot, scoring a hat-trick of tries and running for over 168 run metres. The Knights will want to keep the big man busy in defence to help nullify his attacking ability.

The Knights are on a good run of victories notching four on the trot, but despite this streak the Knights have struggled in attack, lacking in cohesion and spark. It looks as though everything they do is in slow motion and it’s way too structured. Both of their first half tries last week came off kicks, whilst their two second half tries came off unstructured play when Jake Clifford and Connor Watson took the line on with footwork and speed.

If Newcastle are to win and break out of this attacking rut they find themselves in, they’ll need to throw away the playbook and get their dangerous ball runners taking on the line, they include both Clifford and Watson along with Ponga; the more those three players take on the line, the more space and good ball it will produce for the likes of Best and Enari Tuala, who’s been on a try scoring run of seven tries in four matches since moving to the left wing.

KEY STAT

Although this game is technically a Newcastle home game, and it isn’t being played on the Gold Coast, the Knights’ awful record away from home against the Titans cannot be ignored. The Knights last beat the Titans in Queensland in Round 3 2015; since then the Titans have won the next six matches played in the Sunshine State with a points aggregate of 217 – 82. Not pretty reading for the team from the Hunter.

PREDICTION

This match is simply must win for Gold Coast: mathematically they could slip into the finals with 22 points, but it’s highly unlikely. By winning both of their remaining games, the Titans will give themselves the best possible chance of claiming a finals berth. Knowing this and the Knights’ awful record against the Titans in Queensland, along with the Knights’ missing three starting forwards, the Titans simply have no excuses and – with everything to play for – should get the job done. Titans 1-12.

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Comments (1)

  1. William Honley

    These games will be tough throughout since they have last 2 rounds

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