Can The Knights or the Titans Spring A Finals Shock?

The 2021 NRL season hasn't been one for upsets. 

We've consistently seen the top teams pile on points and ride a wave of momentum through to the final whistle. Wrestling back control of a match once you've lost it has never been more difficult, while the gap between good and bad is the biggest it's ever been.

The Stats Insider Model has simulated every game in Week 1 of the NRL Finals and doesn't like the chances of victory for the Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights in their do-or-die matchups. 

Still, this is finals footy and anything can happen in the NRL on any given day. Both have a week on the training paddock to formulate a strategy and plot an ambush. 

While defence is so often the deciding factor at this time of the year, it's a focus on maximising their attack that will put both the Titans and Knights in the best position to cause an upset.

RELATED: Who was your Team's Player of the Season?

Titans

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Regardless of how banged up the Sydney Roosters might be at the moment, they're still sending out a very strong team this week coached by one of the best in Trent Robinson. 

They have elite players scattered across the field and one of the best in the business at fullback. While a handful of un-Roosters-like holes have popped up due to the number of players they have sat in the stands, few teams are better at plugging holes than the Chooks. It's going to take a special effort for the Gold Coast Titans to cause an upset on Saturday evening.

David Fifita is a superstar forward that has single-handedly won the Titans games this season. His 17 tries are the most ever scored by a Titans player in a season and his 150 tackle breaks are the most in the competition.

His move to the right side while starting on the bench has produced positive results, but it is still up for debate whether or not those same results could come when running out with the starting side. 

He's a one-man wrecking ball and the Titans are at their best with him on the field. They've made slight adjustments beyond 'just give it to David' as the season has gone on, but are still heavily reliant on him in attack. After scoring 49.3% of their tries down the left edge and only 19.7% on the right across the first 18 rounds, the Titans have followed Fifita to the right side to score 36.4% of their tries down that side of the field since his switch.

The Titans do have more of an even spread in where they score their points. However, the non-Fifita actions will determine whether or not the Titans can cause an upset this week.

The Roosters are one of the best-prepared teams in the competition to handle Fifita. Just 23% of the tries the Roosters have conceded in 2021 have gone through their left edge. Only the Panthers have conceded fewer. 


Angus Crichton is a State of Origin quality edge and physical defender. While Josh Morris is likely to line up on the right side, Adam Keighran is more experienced than most realise in the centres. Crichton and Keighran will have trained all week for Fifita and Robinson knows that by forcing the Titans to look elsewhere for points, his side will be in the box seat.

The Gold Coast earn themselves enough opportunities to score points throughout a match. Their 1,725 running metres per game ranks 5th in the NRL and translates into a middling 27 tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line per game. Ball playing forwards add some variation to their exit sets with regular passes and tip-ons. Jarrod Wallace, in particular, is crucial to the Titans middle with his 186 general play passes the most of all props in the competition this season per Fox Sports Lab. Add his 102 running metres per game and Wallace is one of the most underrated props in the game at the moment. 

The Titans will be presented with regular chances to attack from inside the Roosters 20-metre line. Finding Fifita will undoubtedly be a major part of their game plan, but at least making dents and destabilising the defensive line elsewhere will be the biggest contributor to the final result of this one.

RELATED: Tactical Change- How have the Titans Revived Their Season?

Knights

The Newcastle Knights attack is bad.

Really bad.

Only the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs - the worst team in the NRL - scored fewer points than the Knights throughout the regular season.

Injuries to key playmakers certainly played a part. Being forced to wait until Round 16 to name their first-choice spine for the first time in over 18 months and only naming it five times since is an understated element to Newcastle's struggles.

However, the fact of the matter remains: The Knights 17.8 points per game is the second-worst attacking record of any finals team in the NRL era.

That's a big obstacle to overcome regardless of the contributing factors leading up to this point. 

Newcastle's poor efficiency in good ball areas is the biggest concern. They're eighth in the NRL in yardage with 1662 running metres per game. Jacob and Daniel Saifiti contribute 256 running metres per game between them while David Klemmer charges up the field for 165 metres per game himself. Tyson Frizell is one of the more metre-eating edge forwards in the competition for his 119 running metres per game while Mitch Barnett finds 132 metres per game as he switches between the edge and middle.

The Knights have no shortage of yardage men and their middle generates 28.4 tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line per game - the fourth-most in the NRL. They don't do enough with those tackles, though.

Again, only the Bulldogs efficiency inside the opposition 20-metre line is worse than the Knights.

Parramatta's middle is one of the best in the NRL. They're going to make Newcastle's path up the field difficult and more than likely limit their opportunities to attack close to the line. The Knights need to make the most of their opportunities and to do that, Kalyn Ponga should be looking left whenever he can.

Newcastle scored 40.9% of their tries down the left edge, 25% in the middle and 34.1% down the right throughout the first 15 rounds of this season. Since Ponga's return in Round 16, they have scored a whopping 62.5% of their tries down the left side of the field. 

If there was ever a game for the Knights to stick with what works and send most of their attack down the left edge, it's this one.

Waqa Blake was made the scapegoat of Parramatta's early-season struggles in defence down the right side. However, things haven't improved since his move to the left. They have conceded 51% of their tries down the right edge this season and have a 19-year-old rookie named in the all-important centre position.

The Knights need to work hard if they're to earn the opportunities to attack in good ball. But when they do have a full set to attack on the line, they need to have a left-edge shift in mind. Don't get too cute and try to spread the attack across the field under the guise of being more unpredictable. Use Ponga where he has consistently been at his best over the last four years and attack a clearly vulnerable area for the opposition.

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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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