Gains: Jamal Idris (Bulldogs), Luke Douglas (Sharks), Beau Champion (Storm), Nate Myles (Roosters), Beau Henry (Knights – mid-season), Beau Falloon (Rabbitohs), Adam Sezer (Bulldogs), Phil Graham (Roosters).
Losses: Nathan Friend (Warriors), Preston Campbell (retired), Luke Capewell (Broncos), Anthony Laffranchi (St Helens), Brad Meyers (retired), Esi Tonga (Eels), Sam Tagataese (Sharks – mid-season), Joseph Tomane (rugby union), Will Matthews (Dragons), Clinton Toopi (retired), Shannon Walker (rugby union).
The Gold Coast enter their sixth season at their first crossroads: after successive semi-finals appearances in 2009-’10 the NRL’s youngest franchise were left licking both their wounds and the dreaded wooden spoon in 2011. Now, a host of their foundation players have moved on, and they have invested in the future, shoring up key positions with some big names.
But will the arrivals of Jamal Idris, Nate Myles and Luke Douglas be enough to cover for the losses of Preston Campbell, Nathan Friend and Anthony Laffranchi? And will they have the immediate impact so desperately needed to restore confidence in players and fans alike?
To be fair, the Titans’ woes extended beyond their ageing players. They had to contend with a massive injury toll, which affected cohesion. And no mistake: they played poorly. Coach John Cartwright needed to call on 33 players during the year, the equal most by any team. As a result of this inconsistency their attack and defence suffered hugely.
Cartwright’s task now is to meld a new squad capable of fighting their way back to the finals.
How They’ll Play It: Or rather, how they won’t play it. In their wooden spoon season in 2011 the Titans shot pop guns in attack and were humiliatingly ineffective in defence. They scored the fewest points (15) and tries (2.7) per game, made the fewest line-breaks (2.8) and the second-fewest tackle-breaks (28.5). Minus Mat Rogers, the weight on skipper Scott Prince was telling: his dependable kicking game slowly eroded – the side registered the fewest metres in territory each game – and as the pressure increased, so too did their error count. In the end they finished with the most blunders of any side (13 a game).
Their defence was turnstile-like, conceding the most points (26.2), tries (4.5), second-most line-breaks (five) and tallying the fourth-most missed tackles (36.4).
Coach John Cartwright will be looking to revisit 2010 when the Titans made the preliminary finals. That year, on the back of Prince’s boot and Friend’s ruck direction, they clawed out the second-most metres each week (nudging 1400) and committed just the sixth-most errors. With so many new faces and a host of new combinations to be struck, fans should not expect miracles early. Cartwright is an astute mentor who knows that getting the basics right first is crucial if the side is to return to semi-finals contention. So the mantra will be: complete our sets, kick deep, tackle committedly, build pressure… then see what we’ve got in attack.
Expect HUGE Things From: Jamal Idris. The Titans dug deep to lure the man mountain away from the Bulldogs and his bulk and speed is sure to be a hallmark of their season. In a struggling side last year Idris still emerged as one of the most impacting centres in the NRL, leading his peers for tackle-breaks (117) and adding 10 line-breaks – that’s 40 tackle-breaks more than all the eight Titans centre options managed all season, and the equal of their combined line-breaks! Having secured another right-side centre in Beau Champion, Idris will shift to the left side of the field; it will give the team excellent balance with David Mead’s brilliance and speed a factor on the right.
Bonus Points: Use the force, Lukes! Former Shark Luke Douglas is a great fit – he’s a replica of Luke Bailey and they’ll feed off each other to provide a good platform for the Titans’ back row and halfback Scott Prince to work from. Douglas, who was named in the Emerging Blues squad in January, played the second-most games by any prop in the NRL in 2011 (24) and averaged 107 metres a game.
The Titans management will be looking for value from top-shelf representative Nate Myles. The former Bulldog and Rooster’s career has been punctuated by good and not-so-good seasons but there’s no doubt that when he’s focused the lock-come-prop is a fierce proposition. With Bird, Ashley Harrison and Mark Minichiello likely to form the back three, Myles will probably be used off the bench – adding maximum impact in limited time. At his best Myles is a forceful runner and punishing defender (he averaged 34 tackles a game for the Roosters last year).
Then there’s hard-hitting Ryan James: with Anthony Laffranchi moving to St Helens, 20-year-old James will get his chance to shine when he makes his return from a serious knee injury in mid-April.
They’re Really Going To Miss: It would be fanciful to suggest the Titans will struggle without the services of retired Preston Campbell – the truth is ‘Presto’ contributed only lip service to their cause in his final NRL year (just four line-breaks in 18 games). A great servant, but he battled in 2011. The guy they’ll really struggle without is hooker Nathan Friend – just as they did all last year when he sat on the sidelines injured. For the past few years Friend figured as the most involved player in rugby league, topping (as he did in 2010 with an average 115 touches a game) or thereabouts in the stats list for most receives. With Friend off to the Warriors, that leaves new hooker Matt Srama to shoulder the burden of directing traffic after he was eased into the big time last season. That’s a big job for a 21-year-old in just his second season in first grade. But also, an injury clouds Srama’s availability from the get-go [see How’s Their Depth, below].
It’s Time To Deliver: At five-eighth. We won’t point the finger at an individual, rather we’ll bang home the irrefutable truth that unless someone steps up in the No.6 outside of the overworked Scott Prince, the Titans will do it tough again. Last year five players filled the five-eighth role, with William Zillman’s 13 games the most. Mat Rogers held down the position for three seasons before his retirement in 2010 and they were the team’s most successful to date. It will be interesting to see whether John Cartwright shifts Greg Bird to pivot, should early candidates Zillman, Jordan Rankin and Beau Henry fail to deliver.
It would be unfair to target Scott Prince given his silver service to the Gold Coast over the past five years but he does need to create more opportunities than his 13 try assists in 2011 – his fewest in their colours and way down on his 25, 24 and 21 tallied in the previous three seasons.
How’s Their Depth: Patchy. The back row and prop rotation is strong but hooker is a real concern – especially given new recruit Beau Falloon’s biceps injury that will sideline him for the first 10 rounds, plus a minor knee injury to main rake Srama that has him in doubt for the season opener. That leaves third-stringer Kayne Lawton, with all of three first grade games up his sleeve, in the firing line.
And if either Rankin or Zillman fall to injury, that will complicate the fullback and five-eighth positions even further.
Under-20s: The junior Titans will be looking to make a statement after finishing a lowly 14th in 2011, with new coach Jamie O’Connor hopeful a few star individuals will emerge.
There’s a strong vibe around playmaker Matthew Beddow, who made a huge impression in his debut year in the NYC last season. In just 14 games in the No.7 Beddow proved dangerous every time he ran the ball, making 58 tackle busts – the most by any halfback – as well as 10 line-breaks (third most) and nine try assists.
The Coach: After successive finals appearances in 2009-’10 coach John Cartwright was handed a contract extension that keeps him at the Gold Coast through 2016. That’s five long seasons away – and they’ll seem even longer if the Titans ‘Mark II’ don’t show signs of cohesion the deeper this year unfolds. Carty is revered by Titans management and they have great faith in him. Carty, though, will be placing his faith in the players to keep the headline hunters at bay.
Predicted Finish: There is a case to be made for an improved showing in 2012 – but with the potential instability in their spine it’s difficult for us to get excited about their chances of revisiting the top eight. Somewhere from 11th to 14th.�
Toyota NRL Dream Team view from NRL.com's Lone Scout
The gun: New recruit Luke Douglas is one of the hardest-working and most indestructible props in the game, and will again be one of the best performing Dream Team front-rowers in the NRL.
The dark horse: If rookie five-eighth Aidan Sezer gets a shot in the No.6 he'll be a bargain.