The Titans can certainly look at line-ball refereeing calls not going their way. They can too receive praise for effort and having a ‘real dig’ at home in often pouring rain at Cbus Super Stadium.
And after watching the under-20s side lead 10-0 then get run down while four players were sitting in their seats injured, only to come back to a match-winning conversion attempt after the siren that went just wide, Titans fans were left wondering when luck at home is going to change.
However, there is no disguising the hard facts of a second narrow NRL loss in the first two home matches. And the major one is lack of composure in the final 10 minutes when the team had bravely fought so hard to be in the match, but didn’t have that elusive ingredient – whether that is confidence, discipline under pressure or control of anxiety – to get over the line.
The Titans, who had only 35 per cent of possession in the first half which was almost a mirror-image of the first 40 minutes against the Panthers eight days earlier, completed 12 straight sets in the second half and had come back from 14-6 down to lead 18-14 ahead.
They failed to finish off four of the next six in the final 14 minutes, and compounded that by conceding two penalties, and let the Knights in for the second of their three tries which came from a straight runner parading through too-big a gap untouched – this time to Jeremy Smith.
This was part of the scenario of the final 14 minutes:
Will Zillman gathers a Aidan Sezer sideways kick on the last but his desperate kick deflects off Uate into touch – Knights turnover 20m their line; Daniel Mortimer kicks out on the full next set in possession; Eddy Pettybourne penalised and put on report for a high tackle; Aidan Sezer completes the next set with a long kick; Mortimer kicks out on the full again; Sezer kicks deep again; Greg Bird penalised for holding on after a Uate half-break; Smith scores off next set from a flat ball from dummy-half Adam Clydesdale 10m out for 20-18 Newcastle; next Titans set is incomplete again with the ball going to Ryan James from dummy half and only then to Sezer for the kick but he had to throw the ball under pressure to Nate Myles who threw forward.
Until then it was probably the Titans’ most constructive and effective half hour of football in three matches, but it counted for little in the end.
The NRL rules no longer allow for a club to criticise refereeing decisions and, considering too many post-match conferences for too many years have been dominated by coaches’ and media’s focus on the refs’ calls, that is understandable.
So coach Neil Henry was diplomatic when questioned about the on-field referees’ and video refs’ calls to rule that a deflection from Korbin Sims of a Tyrone Roberts pass in the lead-up to Dane Gagai’s breathtaking try was a knock back. But opinions of TV commentators and pressmen were that it was a marginal knock forward but the line-ball call went against the Titans – one of many that have been crucial this season.
That’s footy and the Titans had plenty of time and opportunity to make amends.
There were certainly some great efforts by the Titans boys though.
Mortimer was roundly criticised for his two missed kicks but only Luke Douglas (40) made more than his 31 tackles and one, head-on and low on Joey Leilua close to the line, typified his effort. Mortimer also put on the inside ball to Ryan Simpkins that set up Sezer’s second try.
Local junior Simpkins, in his first NRL game at home for the Titans, was an unsung hero off the bench and did a lot of the one-percenters that are noticed by the coaches and teammates.
Greg Bird, in his return match, was the second best yardage maker with 163m, with only Pettybourne – also a tremendous contributor in attack and defence – better with 167m. Bird also made some important tackles and general gave the pack authority, with Pettybourne an able ally.
Sezer did some terrific things and started to control the game in the second half but like others made a couple of errors at crucial times. Josh Hoffman’s tackle on a runaway Leilua was a stand-out moment, as was some of Anthony Don’s efforts in the air.
Yet in the end the side’s inability to close out the match, and some close refs’ calls, were decisive. Sezer said after the match perhaps the team has temporarily forgotten how to win the close games.
This time last year the Titans were “winning ugly” and surprising many.
That’s perhaps only a fingernail away from happening again. The effort and the way the side is troubling defences and the scramble on the try-line outside of those two soft tries, all suggest that.
SOME KEY STATS:
Missed tackles: Titans 40, Knights 22
Possession: Titans 49 per cent to Knights’ 51 per cent after being 35/65 at half-time.
Completions: Titans 78%, Knights 78% (28/36 compared to 31/40)
Penalties: 8-7 Knights
Top tacklers: Douglas 40, Mortimer 31, Myles 29, Moseley 25, Bird 25.
Metres gained: Pettybourne 167, Bird 163, James 113, Don 105.