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'The Bunker, it’s crazy': Des rages as Bunker denies Titans - and Blues cop another blow with Best hamstrung

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Editor
18th May, 2024
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Michael Maguire’s start to life in the NSW hot seat has been wrought with bad luck – and it only got worse at half time of the first game of Saturday at Magic Round as Bradman Best was confirmed to have suffered a hamstring injury.

It is the third such strike that Madge has taken in the last ten days with first Tom Trbojevic and then Nathan Cleary suffering the same injury to be ruled out of Origin before it has even begun. Best, surely, will now join them on the sidelines.

The Knights managed to grab a 28-24 win in the end without their centre, but not after being forced to come back from 24-10 down and then survive a late Bunker decision that denied Brian Kelly a try that would have given the Titans the chance to kick for the win.

Des Hasler fired up at the call, telling the post-match presser that he had already called referee’s boss Graham Annesley about it.

“The Bunker, it’s crazy,” said the Titans coach.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: David Fifita of the Titans passes during the round 11 NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights at Suncorp Stadium, on May 18, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia.

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

“Hand never came away from the ball and if it did it is a penalty for a one-on-one strip isn’t it? They don’t know. They don’t know.

“What can you say? It is pretty clear to see. It is painted pretty obvious.

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“And even the second half, the offside. They were just clearly jumping the line the whole time.

“I feel really sorry for the fans and the players. The fans just get the rough end. Maybe Graham needs to consider that.”

Adam O’Brien backed the call, though said he’d have preferred his team not to let the move, which went through multiple sets of hands, get that far.

“I wasn’t happy about it, I thought we could have done a better job in defence,” he said.

“But the technology is there and we used it and it was the right call. The technology showed. At the time I thought it was a try, but watching the replay and hearing the explanation I agree.”

[related_category category=”rugby-league”

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Rookie fullback David Armstrong scored a hat trick, improving his record in first grade to 4-0 as Kalyn Ponga’s replacement, while at the other end of the age spectrum, Dane Gagai was crucial in the turnaround.

For the Titans, David Fifita capped off a dramatic week with a virtuoso display that underlined how lucky the Gold Coast are to have him around.

With AJ Brimson and Kieran Foran out – not to mention long-term absentee Tino Fa’asuamaleaui – it required leadership from Fifita, who performed spectacular volte-face on the Sydney Roosters to remain with the club for the foreseeable future.

He was the inspiration, but not enough in a defeat that saw the Titans go 10-0 down then put on five tries in succession, with the big backrower at the heart of everything good that the Gold Coast did.

Des Hasler’s side, once again, did plenty enough to win, but once again, did not. Adam O’Brien’s Knights, however, are now in the top eight having won four straight.

Fifitawatch

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All eyes were on Fifita in light of the turbulent week off the field. On it, the Knights couldn’t look anywhere else either, and to their detriment, because it was the other blokes on that edge that did all the damage.

The left shift to Khan-Pereira was worth five line breaks in the first half alone, with the Newcastle right side defence unable to jam given their fear of what Fifita might do in a one-on-one situation.

The million dollar man was often the decoy to distract attention while Brian Kelly and AKP got to work shredding Dane Gagai and Enari Tuala for pace.

That edge was pretty much the best thing about the Gold Coast in 2023, at least going forwards, and it was inexplicable that Hasler chose to leave Khan-Pereira out at times earlier this year.

He’s seen the error of his ways now, recognising how much wider the winger can make the field with his pace. Initially, that helped the Titans get around the edges but latterly, as the Knights reacted in defence, it opened space for Fifita to operate.

The final line break of the first half was through the backrower being able to isolate his man and get an offload to Kelly, his third such assist of the half.

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For all the flash, however, it was the grunt that was most impressive. Various media figures pointed to a lack of work ethic from Fifita, but he was everywhere in this game, taking 20 runs for over 150m, plenty of them of the thankless, difficult kind.

It wasn’t enough to get his side over the line in the end, but not for lack of trying.

Newcastle keep it simple

The Knights made some horrendous decisions.

Having had no ball or field position for 20 minutes in the first half, they had the chance to put the blowtorch on – only for Jackson Hastings to pick a fight with Aaron Schoupp, earning both a trip to the bin and gifting the Titans the ball.

In the second, Newcastle got a centre field scrum in good ball, but went for glory on play one and left the ball behind.

But though they burned several opportunities, the Knights were able to make the most of others to get themselves into positions that, on the run of play, they might not have deserved to be in.

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Though dominated in both possession and field position, the Knights played smart with their attack, consistently turning under to tire out the middle forwards of the Gold Coast.

Leo Thompson showed great hands early on to put Jacob Saifiti through a hole from which Armstrong scored their first and kept punching the bruise with multiple inside-out plays that kept the Titans’ defence working hard.

The attack does remain, in general, a little conservative and happy to get to set ends before hoisting up a midfield bomb.

But as long games go, it works against the weaker sides and ensures that they are very hard to beat. Whether it will work against anyone decent remains up for debate, but it’s hard to argue with four wins on the bounce.

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