GOLD Coast coach Garth Brennan has warned his players they should expect to face a much-improved Newcastle Knights in Sunday's showdown at CBus Super Stadium.
The Knights handed in their worst performance of the season last weekend, losing 26-18 to Manly after conceding three converted tries in the first 19 minutes.
Brennan said that performance was out of character for the Knights, who have now lost four consecutive games by eight points or less.
The Titans ended their own four-game losing streak last week with a 30-24 win against Penrith, and Brennan said each defeat added to their sense of desperation.
"We know how we responded to four losses in a row," Brennan told the Newcastle Herald.
"The boys were really determined to come out and play well and put a win on the board.
"We're expecting a similar sort of thing from the Knights.
"They've lost four in a row, and it's probably fair to say last weekend they weren't at their best.
"Every other game, at least they've been in the fight. I'd imagine they weren't happy with how they played [against Manly] and that they'll be looking to make amends.
"So we'll be preparing to play a very focused, determined Newcastle Knights."
Regardless of Newcastle's position on the points table, Brennan said the Knights had a host of "quality players" who had proven themselves at the highest level. He said both teams would have preferred more wins in the early rounds but had ample time to turn their seasons around.
"The competition is so close," he said.
"OK, we're one from five, but if you string two or three wins together, you're up in the eight.
"It's not panic stations for any team at this point.
"There's still a long way to go and you can get yourself back up in the equation really quickly."
Meanwhile, Brennan empathises with his Newcastle counterpart, Nathan Brown, as speculation mounts about his long-term job security.
"It's the nature of the beast," Brennan said.
"A week ago, I think they [the media] were talking about me.
"The week before that it might have been Ivan Cleary, and the week before that it was Dean Pay.
"Next week it will be someone else.
"That's just the industry we're in. You have a win and it tends to go away.
"I'd imagine Browny has been around long enough that he's not too worried about it. It would be just white noise to him."
Brennan, the born-and-bred Novocastrian who started his coaching career in the Knights' junior system and is now in his second season at the Titans, said he had learned that "you can't listen to it".
"All I can do is stay focused on what I'm doing and believing in it, and hopefully that brings results," he said.
"I know I have the club's support. There is no pressure from within."
The Titans started the season without first-choice halves Ashleigh Taylor and Tyrone Roberts, and Taylor is in doubt for Sunday after suffering a knee injury against the Panthers.
Brennan said Roberts, who played 97 NRL games for Newcastle between 2011 and 2015, had matured after spending last year playing for Warrington in the English Super League.
"We missed them at the start of the year, as most teams would miss their two starting halves," Brennan said
"We were a bit clunky while they were out.
"Then Ash only lasted 20-odd minutes against Penrith, and Tyrone had to really step up.
"Ash is still in doubt for this weekend, and AJ Brimson has broken a thumb, so we could be needing another pair of halves.
"Ryley Jacks is an option, but we'll be hoping Tyrone can have a similar impact to what he did last week. I thought he controlled the game really well."
Roberts has played four times against Newcastle for three wins and a loss.
Gold Coast's squad also includes bench forward Max King, a West Maitland junior and the grandson of St George legend Johnny King.
King, 21, debuted for the Titans in 2017 and now has 33 top-grade games under his belt.
Former Knights prop Jack Stockwell has been named on Gold Coast's extended bench.