There were certainly good signs for the season from the opening performance of the season against the Knights but what would have pleased coach Neil Henry as much as anything was the control in the wet and the leadership of the senior men.
There was an air of uncertainty, as much as expectation, around the first match by a team that boasts nine players who weren’t in our ranks in 2015.
The context of the victory mustn’t be overblown – the Knights had eight new players of which five were making their NRL debuts, and were last year’s wooden spooners – but the fact it was the Titans’ fourth straight win at home and a good confidence booster.
Of the newcomers Zeb Taia was perhaps the stand-out, with and without the ball.
He topped the tackle count with 39 and played the 80 minutes (as did fellow second-rower Chris McQueen). But he also showed his class in attack too and with McQueen on the right, and Greg Bird having the ability to hit the ball up tight and probe on the edges, it gives the Titans a versatile staring back row.
Tyrone Roberts was strong too. If there was a moment where Tyrone Roberts showed his intent against his former club it came late in the first half when he came up quickly out of the line with numbers short on the left and aggressively nailed Jarrod Mullen, as if to make a statement saying “remember me” and that he was now a dominant halfback who wasn’t going to be outplayed the preferred halves who he made way for at Newcastle.
Robert’s kicking and running game worried the Knights, and he and Ash Taylor, who was a little hesitant early but gathered confidence as time went on, outplayed their Origin-experienced opponents.
Bird always lifts for his home club and his svelte hands that put on tries for Paasi and Anthony Don showed his class.
Birdy hasn’t hid that he wanted to have the ‘c’ against his name but has is determined to make up for last season that was restricted to just 12 appearances due to a suspension from the Anzac Test match and a quad injury late in the campaign. After Nathan Friend retired after 20 minutes because of a knock to the head, Birdy took on the leading role.
He was responsible for two try-assists, was the team’s second best in yardage and made 25 tackles.
Anthony Don made his debut in round six of 2013 but this is the first time in the three subsequent seasons he has started in the top side in round one. His try-double brings his strike-rate to 30 tries in 45 matches, one of the best in NRL history, but it was the skill he showed in the fielding a mis-kick at dummy half from Daniel Mortimer, then put it on his boot and weaved between the Mata’utia brothers before regathering and beating Jaelen Feeney on the outside, was outstanding.
David Mead was brave, direct and decisive filling in for injured Will Zillman at fullback, Nathan Davis was solid on debut and the forwards really performed well in the conditions, considering Eddy Pettybourne was restricted to 17 minutes after suffering a cork just minutes after coming onto the field in the first half and Leivaha Pulu not being brought on until midway through the second.
That’s the benefit of having, under the new eight-interchange rule, big men like Paasi, Bird, McQueen, Taia and Ryan James who have shown they are capable of playing 80 minutes while our prop rotation can also churn out good 50-minute plus efforts.
That was the first time since 2010 that the Titans have won four straight games at home. Let’s hope that can be stretched against Wests Tigers on Saturday week.
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 55%, Knights 45%
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 78% (32/41), Knights 79% (23/29)
ERRORS: Titans 11, Knights 10.
TACKLES: 305 (missed 24), Knights 370 (missed 19)
PENALTIES: Titans 9, Knights 8
TOP TACKLERS: Taia 39, Shillington 32, Mortimer 30, James 29, Bird 25.
TOP METRE MAKERS: Paasi 165, Mead 158, Bird 145, Taia 111, James 106.
TOP MINUTES (forwards): Taia 80, McQueen 80, Bird 62, James 53, Mortimer 50, Shillington 45, Paasi 41, Friend 32, Pulu 22, Pettybourne 17.