It’s Knights vs Titans in battle of who could care less but wooden spoon is on the line

The race to avoid the NRL wooden spoon in 2022 looks down to two contenders.

For much of the year, the pair in question for most would have been the Bulldogs and the Tigers.

But under interim coach Mick Potter, Canterbury have discovered a new-found attacking freedom, seeing them win four of their past six games.

As for the Tigers, their past fortnight has been one to bring a smile to the face of the true believers – all right, the Cowboys game was more grimace than smile, but at least they put in – culminating in their fill-in coach, Brett Kimmorley, getting his first win in charge, over the Broncos on the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Knights and Titans are having what I’m calling a ‘who-cares off’ for the wooden spoon.

Dominic Young. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Firstly, it’s who cares because anyone who’s watched these teams over the past few weeks surely doesn’t care to do so again. They’re bad to the point of being prescribed by doctors as a treatment for insomnia.

And secondly, in what is seemingly the cause of the first reason, is that ‘who cares’ seems to be the attitude of most players in these two teams.

They’ve given up – on their seasons, their coaches and their fans.

About two years ago, I wrote a piece saying the Broncos deserved to come last that season, and that “the 2020 wooden spoon won’t be taken out by the team with the worst players but by the players with the worst attitude”.

This appears to be the case again this year.

We’re talking about two of last year’s top-eight teams, yet this year they have both fallen off a cliff in terms of performance, without any real rhyme or reason from a personnel perspective.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: Jamal Fogarty of the Raiders is tackled during the round 13 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium, on June 05, 2022, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Yes, both teams farewelled last year’s starting halfback ahead of the 2022 season, but the Titans had told Jamal Fogarty he was likely to be second-choice behind Toby Sexton and thus somewhat pushed him out the door, while the Knights having extended Mitchell Pearce for just the one year was a clear indicator that he was on borrowed time in the Hunter and his desire to move to the south of France can’t have been the surprise Newcastle claimed it to be.

But while we shouldn’t downplay the importance of the No.7, is that really an excuse to freefall completely out of finals contention, particularly when the rest of both sides remain largely intact?

Both squads have forward packs littered with representative-quality players and outside backs that, at the very least, have shown plenty of potential in the past.

Yes, as mentioned, both are a little light-on in the halves – although even that excuse is somewhat flimsy in Newcastle, where Samoa half Anthony Milford and Jake Clifford, who the club made a concerted effort to prise out of North Queensland, started on the weekend – but does that explain a team-wide failure to do the basics, such as catch passes and make tackles?

Knights fans

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Following his side’s boring, boring, boring loss to the Dogs on Sunday afternoon – I’m actually glad I had COVID, otherwise I would have sat through that dross at the ground – Adam O’Brien talked about how he knows great defence, because he’s worked at clubs that played in four grand finals before coming to the Knights.

“I know the systems they used defensively,” he said.

“You don’t unlearn that knowledge. Applying it and getting it ingrained is going to take some time clearly.

“Week to week we can talk about one area of that defence and we can fix it in seven days, but then we will let another area of our defence down.”

Look, it’s not an unreasonable thing to say, except that it’s Round 20 of O’Brien’s third season at the helm of this club – and all the 17 players to take the field on Sunday, bar Queensland representatives Dane Gagai and Milford, were at the club last year.

How long do you need to teach guys a defensive system? And how complicated is your system if the guys tasked with using it are Homer Simpson-ing their way through it:

“Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home wine-making course and I forgot how to drive?”

What’s arguably even worse is the team’s attack, if you can even call it that. At 10-0 down after less than ten minutes, I knew the game was over for the simple reason the Knights were incapable of scoring the 11 points required (at the time) to overhaul their opposition.

On the Gold Coast things are marginally better, stats-wise, in that their points differential of -198 is better than Newcastle’s -238, but then the Knights can safely say, “Yeah, well, at least we didn’t fire our former skipper for posting footage on social media of himself vaping in the dunnies at halftime.”

Toby Sexton

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

There has been speculation as to whether Kevin Proctor did what he did on purpose so as to get fired, but from a club perspective, his actions are a bigger issue than his intentions.

How bad are things that a senior member of your playing group would do such a thing?

So who ends up with the spoon? Well let’s look at their respective runs home:

Round 21: Tigers (A)
Round 22: Broncos (A)
Round 23: Raiders (H)
Round 24: Titans (A)
Round 25: Sharks (H)

Round 21: Storm (A)
Round 22: Sea Eagles (H)
Round 23: Dragons (A)
Round 24: Knights (H)
Round 25: Warriors (A)

Straight up, I don’t see the Knights winning any of their remaining games, bar possibly that one match against the Titans.

As for the Gold Coast, they’re no hope against Melbourne and are unlikely to get wins on the road against the Dragons and Warriors.

But they could jag a win against Manly – last week I wouldn’t have said so, but we’re yet to find out just what the fallout has been from the jersey saga – and you would think will start as favourites against the Knights in Round 24.

So while technically their last-place destiny is still in their own hands, the Knights’ chances of avoiding a fourth wooden spoon in eight years look strictly mathematical based on the complete lack of care they have shown over the past month.

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