ROUND 6: Gold Coast Titans v. Newcastle Knights (Cbus Super Stadium, 21/4/19)
Both teams came into Sunday afternoon’s match with a point to prove. On the one hand, the Knights had lost four in a row, while the Titans had lost Kevin Proctor shortly before the game. They’d have to reconfigure their front line again less than fifteen minutes in, when Ryan James was taken off with a right leg injury, although that didn’t prevent them dominating the opening half of the match, starting from the first couple of minutes.
These first few sets established the pattern of the first part of the game, as the Titans amped up their attack immediately, while the Knights struggled to attain a convincing line speed. The visitors were carried by Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who came up with three strong takes under the high ball, culminating with Mitch Rein leaking a penalty for tackling him in the air on the third. This gave Newcastle their first big chance to get out of their own end, but it came to nothing when Michael Gordon caught Kalyn Ponga’s kick square on the chest at the end of the following set.
The fourth take from SKD was even more impressive – a spiraling torpedo bomb from Tyrone Roberts that he just managed to bring back into the field of play. While Gordon might have caught the footy on the chest once again, and made some good metres on the return, Jesse Ramien stepped up and dragged Bryce Cartwright into touch midway through the tackle count. This was the first big chance for the Knights, and looked like it might result in points when Ponga found himself with the football at the end of the next set, but his left boot found Anthony Don, rather than Edrick Lee, giving the Titans another chance to attack.
No surprise, then, that there was a sense of consolidation on the next Gold Coast set, with Moeaki Fotuaika taking two carries in three plays. With an Ash Taylor kick knocked on by Danny Levi, the Titans looked set to score, but they were now hit by their biggest blow of the season so far – a right leg injury for Ryan James that saw him only just able to walk off the field, after initially signalling for a stretcher. At first, it was hoped that this would only be a contact injury, but you could see everyone in the Gold Coast side thinking ACL, as the injury eventually turned out to be.
While the Titans wouldn’t yet know that this would rob them of their capitain for the rest of the season, the pause was damaging enough, sapping their momentum and giving the Knights some time to regather themselves after the impact of Fotuaika’s carries and Levi’s error. While the home team got a penalty early in the tackle count, it was a bit of fizzler, with Dale Copley being called back from a quick tap, and the team then electing to take the two instead of continuing Copley’s momentum.Embed from Getty Images
While Gordo easily slotted through the two points, it felt as if the rhythm of the last Gold Coast set had been dissipated by this decision. For a moment, the advantage shifted back Newcastle’s way, thanks in part to a penalty they received halfway through their next set. As with Ponga’s effort to link up with Lee, however, it came to nothing, although the fault didn’t lie with Ponga, who collected the footy from Mitchell Pearce and then sent it across at lightning-speed to Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
Instead, it was Fitzgibbon who was responsible for the dissolution of the set, taking an unnecessary risk by offloading back to Conor Watson instead of consolidating Newcastle’s field position at the line. Gold Coast came up with the football, and started marching their way back up the other end of the field. On the next set, the Knights were clearly keen to make up for their previous effort on the Gold Coast line, putting in arguably their best attack of the night so far – a confident take under the high ball from Ponga, followed by a pair of terrific runs from SKD and Pearce, both of whom came close to breaking through the line.
The Knights felt on the cusp of something promising, so it was doubly disappointing when Watson lost the footy on the next tackle. To make matters worse, Rein scooped it up and shifted it across to Brian Kelly, who sent it over to Philip Sami in turn. Having just come onto the park, Sami’s legs were fresh enough to make it over in the corner, with only Ramien coming close to bumping him into touch. With Gordon booting through a superb sideline conversion, the Titans were 8-0, and had scored the first try for the first time in 2019.
The Titans continued to apply pressure on their next set, forcing Ponga to almost lie on his back to clean up Roberts’ kick. Yet their next try came off a second Newcastle error, this time from Jacob Saifiti, who lost the footy on the Knights’ left edge. The Gold Coast halves clicked into motion as Taylor gathered up the Steeden and shifted it across to Roberts, who broke through the line to score even more rapidly than Sami had a couple of minutes before. Once again, Gordo added the extras, bringing the scoreline to 14-0, while the Knights seemed stunned for the next part of the game.
It was a bit surprising, then, that the Titans elected to take the two seven minutes out from the siren instead of having another shot at the line. Maybe their form earlier in the season was making them risk-averse, but in any case they would get another try before they headed into the sheds, thanks to a poor kick from Pearce that gave them a seven-tackle set with a couple of minutes left on the clock. A massive run from Sami, a wide pass from Rein, and then a shorter pass from Roberts allowed Kelly to take advantage of some weak defence from Watson to showcase the most dazzling footwork of the afternoon so far as he crossed over to score.Embed from Getty Images
With Gordon booting through yet another two points, the Titans were 22-0 as they headed into the sheds. Clearly, the Knights had to come back strong, and come back immediately, when they trotted out for the start of the second stanza. Six minutes in, Pearce looked set to do just that, but lost the footy beneath the posts just as he was slamming it down to score. There was a momentary question of whether it had been kicked out of his hand by Cartwright, but even Pearce conceded, immediately, that the error was his.
This was the last chance the Knights got for some time, as the Titans scored again a few minutes later off the most egregious Newcastle error of the game so far. Apparently, Nathan Brown had told his men in the sheds at half-time that one of their top priorities was carrying the ball hard and straight early in the tackle count. Nevertheless, SKD opted for a risky pass on the first tackle, setting up Lee to fail as Copley scooped up the footy and popped it over the top to Don to score, with Gordon’s kick bringing the Titans to a staggering 28-0 lead.
The Knights followed up with their first try of the game, but only after some more messy play, and only after being gifted the most sustained period of field position that either team had enjoyed. At the end of the Titans’ restart, Roberts’ kick went straight through Ponga’s legs, making him seem vulnerable enough for Peachey and Kelly to pile on a bit too much pressure on the first tackle, leaking a penalty in the process. For a moment, it looked like Newcastle weren’t going to do much with it, as Levi passed to nobody on the fourth tackle, and the team moved the ball to the left side of the field, only to find that Lee had no chance of making it over the line.
Finally, the visitors got a break when Ramien forced a much-needed dropout on their right edge. During the next set, Roberts reached out a hand to try and intercept a Ponga pass, only to knock it on in the process. The Knights now got the scrum feed, and while Taylor responded with a massive one-on-one effort on Ponga on the first tackle, Cartwright leaked a penalty on the second. Moments later, a deft ball from Watson sent Hymel Hunt across in the corner, for the first Newcastle try of the game.
The Knights would also score the next four points, but only after their most frustrating passage of play so far. It started with Pearce crashing over, only for the play to be called back because Mitch Barnett supposedly offloaded after a tackle was complete – a call that seemed wrong in real time, and was clearly wrong during the replay. While Fotoeika might have lost the footy immediately, the Knights got another heartache after Watson had a try called back for a double movement on the right edge.Embed from Getty Images
In the lead-up to the try, Roberts had made contact with the football, and while he might not have touched it with his hands, you could understand Pearce’s frustration at the Titans getting the footy back now, given that both of these almost-tries had come off the bad call on Barnett. Yet that combination of Pearce, Roberts and Barnett ended up working to the Knights’ advantage at the end of the next set, when Pearce booted through a terrific last-tackle kick, Roberts tried to shepherd it into touch, and Barnett managed to get a hand to it just before his leg and elbow skidded over the dead ball line.
Earlier in the game, you might have said that it was worth Pearce and Barnett being momentarily frustrated for the sake of this try, which was doubly cathartic for having come after the last sequence of Newcastle possession. At this late stage, however, it didn’t ramify in quite that way, since with Ponga missing the second conversion in a row the Knights were still twenty points behind on the board. What they needed was a show of individual brilliance, which was just what Ponga provided a moment later.
Collecting the footy from Pearce midway up the field, Ponga broke through the line, skidding past Roberts for good measure, while making his way around Gordon as well, running so fast that he was too cramped to take on the conversion by the time he’d got the ball to ground. In a moment of poetic justice, Barnett booted through the extras, closing another Pearce-Barnett-Roberts sequence – this time with the additional injection of Ponga – to put that terrible call for the Knights a bit further behind them.
The next set started with David Klemmer skittled by a huge hit from Jai Arrow, but this just seemed to galvanise Newcastle, who pumped up the octane over the next couple of tackles, culminating with a crossfield kick from Pearce that Ramien came close to reaching in time to score. The game suddenly felt as if it had gone up a notch, as Gavet responded to Arrow’s hit on Klemmer with an equally big effort on Kelly. Once again, though, the Knights failed to complete, with Ramien fumbling a pass from Watson at the end of the set, and Ponga coming up with an underwhelming kick the next time that Newcastle had ball in hand.
By this stage, the Knights should have been further ahead, since they’d totally reversed the run metres of the first half. Yet in the last five minutes the Titans went from 28 to 38, putting down two tries in quick succession that cemented this as one of their very best games in recent memory. The first came after Don cleaned up a last-tackle chip from Pearce, getting the Titans rolling for Peachey to break through the line on the fourth tackle before Roberts grubbered for himself to score.Embed from Getty Images
Gold Coast weren’t done, however, scoring once again on the restart, in the last ten seconds of the game. Appropriately, it came from Gordon, bringing the Titans to a stunning 38-14 win. By this stage, however, both teams were already looking ahead to Round 7 – the Titans to their match against the Tigers at Scully Park, and the Knights against Parramatta back in Newcastle. Given the dramatic outcome at Bankwest on Monday afternoon, both of these matchups promise to be amongst the most dramatic and visceral when next week rolls around, and all four teams will have something big to prove when ANZAC Round hands them the football.
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