COACH Wayne Bennett admitted he was at a loss to explain the poor start to his tenure at Newcastle after the Knights crashed at home to lowly Gold Coast.
“I can’t believed what we dished up, I can’t understand why we dished it up either,” said the decorated Bennett. “Right now, the difficult part for me is that I’m picking the teams.
“When teams are playing well, they pick themselves.”
After the round 12 game at Hunter Stadium both the Titans and Knights have four wins this season, but the situation is more concerning for the home side considering weight of expectation heading into the year.
Bennett said his side “went backwards” with the result as he launched a scathing attack on the majority of the first-grade team.
The seven-time premiership winner said it was “probably” the most disappointing loss in his eleven games in charge of the side .“You just hope by week 10, or game 11 or whatever we are in now, you are starting to win a few battles,” he said. “But we just went backwards tonight that’s the part that disappoints me most.”
Bennett confirmed that the squad was not living up to it’s potential despite some major off-season buys, including Darius Boyd and Kade Snowden, explaining: “When you pick teams you always try to pick your best players and you believe they are the best players.
“You don’t pick the second best players. So I’ve shuffled a few of them around and done a few things, bring one of two guys in and out of the team. But whoever seems to get the opportunity, no-one has grabbed it. And my greatest difficulty right now is I’ve got to pick the team.”
Bennet added: “There (are) three or four of them saying ‘I’ve got to be in the team, I deserve to be there on my performances.’ The rest of them of them are dishing up a whole lot of indifferent performances. So in the end you’ve got to make the decision and sometimes you get it wrong when you’ve got to make that decision”
However, Bennett’s problem of an under-performing first grade squad is two-fold with no players from the NSW Cup performing to his standard either.. “They are not doing any more than what these guys (the first grade team) are doing at the top level… I’d rather have someone in the team that’s out of form then somebody that hasn’t earnt it.”
In the victorious camp it was the efforts of the returning Origin players Nate Myles and Ashley Harrison (Queensland) and Greg Bird (NSW), that saw praise from coach John Cartwright.
“It’s a really tough ask on the players two or three days after one of those Origin games,” said Cartwright. “For them to come out and do what they did, firstly to put their hand up and say they’ll play and then to go out and play as well as they did, it’s good signs for the team.“
“I think both sides probably had the (issue of dealing with) Origin players away which can be a bit hard on your preparation. I think we had a fair bit we can improve upon but I thought there were patches in that game that were as good as we have played this year
“I thought we started pretty slow. But we worked our way into the game. They hung in defensively and they put in some really good pieces of football together and built some pressure. A few repeat sets and came up with some nice tries.”
The home side opened the scoring with a try to NSW winger Akuila Uate. After a James McManus run down the left touchline the Gold Coast knocked the ball dead in goal. Getting the ball back from the goal-line drop-out Jarrod Mullen set the play to the right-hand side were Junior Sa’u found Uate to score first.
The Titans got into action on the 19th minute with a try to tackle machine Matt Srama. Following a 30 metre run from William Zillman hooker Srama ran the final ten metres to score. The visitors took the lead 6-4 after the conversion.
From 4-0 down to 10-4 up in the space of three minutes, Gold Coast was in on 22 minutes through winger David Mead. The platform was laid from back-rower Mark Minichiello and centre Jamal Idris. In the final phase captain Scott Prince found Beau Champion for Mead to score in the right-hand corner with a one-handed put down.
Two minutes from half-time and having started the match from the bench, Queensland Origin lynchpin Myles scored after Srama found him out of acting half. The Prince goal made the half-time score 16-4 to the men from the Sunshine Strip.
The Titans scoring in the second half was opened by Bird who strolled over for an easy try when hovering on the left edge of attack in the 52nd minute. Beating the first-up tackle of Mullen and the final attentions of Chris Houston, Bird scored his second try of the season and the Prince conversion extended the score to 22-4.
Giving the home fans some late joy was two tries in the last thirteen minutes to halfback Tyrone Roberts and back-rower Alex McKinnon. Roberts was able to deceive Titans prop Luke Bailey with a dummy after been set-up by Mullen. Mullen featured again with a good run to set-up McKinnon. Roberts failed to convert his own try but converted the last four-pointer.
A late penalty when the Titans were on attack saw Prince confirm the win at 24-14
GOLD COAST 24 (G Bird D Mead N Myles M Srama tries S Prince 4 goals) bt NEWCASTLE 14 (A McKinnon T Roberts A Uate tries T Roberts goal) at Hunter Stadium. Referee: S Hayne/A Shortall. Crowd: 15,792.