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With the cooler weather starting to come in, NRL Sunday will begin at 2pm AEST for the first time this year with a clash between the Gold Coast Titans and the Newcastle Knights, and given the form of both sides (they are both 1-4), it’s quite frankly difficult to back either team in this contest.
The Titans have had a very disrupted start to the year with injuries, having spent plenty of time without first-choice halves Tyrone Roberts and Ash Taylor. Both have been named for this clash, although Taylor is under a fitness cloud with a knee injury.
Should he fail to prove his fitness, it’s likely that Tyrone Peachey will move to five-eighth and Roberts to halfback, while Phillip Sami will come into the starting side either on the wing or at centre.
The Titans are also missing Queensland Origin front-rower Jarrod Wallace, who pleaded guilty to a dangerous throw on Penrith’s Dallin Watene-Zelezniak last week.
For the Knights, the ending of the Kalyn Ponga five-eighth experiment three weeks ago has not reversed their fortunes as many had thought it would as they have failed to win a single game with him at fullback. One wonders how disruptive a pre-season spent training at 6 was for his development as a number one.
While he hasn’t been as good as he was last year, he has shown glimpses of that form, particularly against the Dragons in Round 4 when he came up with two try-assists.
Of more concern to Knights fans will be the recent form of star halfback Mitchell Pearce. In addition to coming up with 11 errors (the 5th most in the NRL) he’s set up just two tries in five games. The Knights really need more from him if they’re to make a return to the finals this season.
I can see the Knights returning to the winner’s circle in this one.
The Titans look thin in the forwards without Wallace, and they look light on attacking options without AJ Brimson. Even if Ash Taylor plays, he will struggle to have much of an impact on one leg.
The Knights for me are due. Ponga will be three games back in the fullback role, and will be starting to find his groove there again. They have more strike out wide than the Titans do – Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee are particularly threatening.
But it ultimately comes down to the forwards, and while the Knights pack have not been at their best, they should be able to account for the Titans without their spearhead Jarrod Wallace.
Knights by 10
Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting from 2pm AEST.
Where: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
TV: Fox League
Streaming: NRL Digital Pass, Kayo Sports
1. Michael Gordon 2. Anthony Don 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Brian Kelly 5. Dale Copley 6. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ash Taylor 8. Shannon Boyd 9. Mitch Rein 10. Ryan James 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. Jai Arrow Interchange: 14. Phillip Sami 15. Keegan Hipgrave 16. Max King 17. Jai Whitbread Reserves: 18. Moeaki Fotuaika 19. Jack Stockwell 20. Jesse Arthars 21. Ryley Jacks.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Danny Levi 10. James Gavet 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitch Barnett 13. Tim Glasby Interchange: 14. Connor Watson 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. Daniel Saifiti 17. Josh King Reserves: 18. Sione Mata’utia 19. Jamie Buhrer 20. Brodie Jones 21. Tautau Moga.