Ryan James : Digital Image by Robb Cox ©nrlphotos.com:  :NRL Rugby League - Panthers V Titans at Carrigton Oval, Bathurst. Saturday March 14th 2015.

NRL PREVIEW: Titans v Knights

The Titans have a stronger team, and plenty of incentive in front of home crowd on Sunday, to show some of the character that was evident last they clashed with the Newcastle Knights last season and came away with 22-8 victory at Hunter Stadium in the ‘Rise for Alex’ round.

This clash is much earlier in the season but the circumstances are somewhat similar.

It was round 19 and the Titans had several key players out and had lost six of the previous seven games but players like Dave Taylor, Daniel Mortimer, Anthony Don and James Roberts stood up during the absence of Greg Bird, Ashley Harrison, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly, Will Zillman, Ryan James and others and came away with a victory that coach John Cartwright regarded as one of the best of his long stint at the club.

It’s only round three but after two losses during a dramatic period for the club, the Titans desperately need a big performance on Sunday for the two competition points available, confidence and credibility.

Certainly the return of Bird, Taylor, Beau Falloon and Matt White gives the pack far more experience, size and aggression but that will be needed against a Newcastle side that has begun the season with impressive wins against the Warriors and Cowboys. After winning the last two games of 2014 that means the Knights are on a four-match winning streak and are a team on the improve.

A fit skipper Kurt Gidley’s combination with halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts is a danger, as is the impact of centres Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua, wingers James McManus and Akuila Uate and a tough, physical pack.

Taylor’s return gives the Titans good impact runners on each edge (Taylor right, James left), while Falloon is a noted low-error defender and White and Bird add good aggressive metre makers and defenders.

However, failing to keep possession and trying to over-play with the ball in the attacking zone has been the Titans’ downfall and that is where coach Neil Henry needs improvement. The Titans have completed at just 68 per cent against the Tigers and an appalling 50 per cent against the Panthers, although the Knights have been at a modest 73 per cent in each of their first two matches.

“We’ve got more size and experience in the pack with the four players returning but our focus is obvious this game – to play a lot smarter and with a lot more patience in possession,” said coach Henry.

“We held the ball only twice in our last six sets against the Tigers when the game was there to be won at 18-all, coming up with errors at their end of the field which gave them the opportunity to work into good field position and Pat Richards to kick a field goal in the last seconds.

“We could have easily been 12-0 up after 10 minutes against the Panthers in Bathurst but some calls went against us and we found ourselves 8-0 behind at half-time.

“The second half started with James Roberts making an explosive break down the right edge and he found David Mead inside with four players in support but unfortunately the ball went to Penrith and an opportunity was lost.

“It could have been 8-6 five minutes into the second half. But it wasn’t and from then we continued to turn the ball over and at one stage failed to complete five straight sets, which makes it impossible to build any pressure on the opposition’s defensive line. Under a mountain of possession Penrith went on to score six unanswered tries in the last 35 minutes.

“Our completions were poor at 50 per cent. We completed only 16 of 32 sets and three from our 11 in the second half. That meant we had only had 37 per cent to their 63 per cent possession; you can’t win with those stats at any level.

“However, our attack has shown some real enterprise at times, and we’ve been unlucky that when we’ve gone through the defensive line we haven’t converted it into good field position and points - because our passing or handling has gone astray.

“The Knights have started with two wins and are very physical in the middle and have plenty to throw at you out wide, so we must improve to be in the match. But I feel we have a better balanced side and we have plenty of incentive to get our first win of the season in front of a home crowd.”

The Knights have certainly had the upper hand with clashes between the two sides in the previous eight seasons and traditionally these clashes are hard fought.

HEAD TO HEAD: 12 games – Knights 7, Titans 5.

AT CBUS SUPER STADIUM: 7 games – Knights 4, Titans 3.

Last time we met: Rd 19, 2014 – Titans 22, Knights 8

The teams:

TITANS: Hoffman, Don, Roberts, Zillman, Mead, Sezer, Mortimer, Douglas, Falloon, Myles (capt), James, Taylor, Bird. Interchange: Pettybourne, White, Simpkins, Moseley.

KNIGHTS: Gidley (capt), McManus, Gagai, Leilua, Uate, Mullen, Roberts, Snowden, Clydesdale, K. Sims, Scott, Rochow, Smith. Interchange: Randell, Houston, Fa’alogo, Stockwell.

MATCH OFFICIALS: Referees – Adam Devcich, Gavin Reynolds. Video refs: Gavin Badger, Ben Galea.

Kick-off: 5.30pm (Qld)