PANTHER PRIDE | A big win for the mountain men tonight has them firmly entrenched in the top eight, ...
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The Gold Coast travelled to within one match of the decider in 2010, marking the club's most successful campaign in their short history. However, despite reaching the final four, an unsavoury preliminary final loss at the hands of the high flying Sydney Roosters no doubt left a sense of unfinished business. And, with a squad beginning to age, they may have squandered a golden opportunity to secure a maiden premiership.
The Titans started the year in strong fashion, winning seven from their first nine - the two defeats came surprisingly versus North Queensland and expectantly against St George Illawarra, both in the absence of injured half Scott Prince. The side struggled through the middle third of the season and lost six games from Round 10 to 19. Their inexplicable drop in form saw the Gold Coast fall similarly down the ladder from second to eighth place.
With their finals hopes starting to slide, an under-siege Coast travelled to WIN Jubilee to take on the might of the Dragons. In arguably their grittiest win of 2010, a 90th minute Golden Point field goal from the evergreen Mat Rogers ensured an 11-10 triumph. Aside from a crucial two competition points, the win gave the side confidence that it could compete against the cream of the crop. This rediscovered spark ignited a five match winning streak, before a hiccup in Round 25 against Cronulla threatened to undo the hard work. Fortunately, it proved merely a blip with the Titans rebounding to overcome Wests Tigers in the final round of the regular season.
A fourth place finish meant a home semi at Skilled Park against the Warriors and in front of their biggest crowd of 2010 (just over 27,000) the Titans didn't disappoint, running out 28-16 victors. Favourable, or perhaps in hindsight not so favourable, results gave Gold Coast the week off to prepare for a preliminary final match up with the Roosters. And, although the extra seven days rest allowed players to recover from niggling injuries, it served more as a momentum killer. A flat performance against a Todd Carney-inspired Sydney saw the side crash to a 32-6 defeat one game short of the grand final.
It was the second year in succession that, despite a top four finish, the Titans failed to translate their great regular season form to September. The loss against the Roosters again casts doubts over whether the side has the required mental toughness at the back end of the year.
The Gold Coast's success was built on the back of a hardworking pack. The standout performer in 2010 was veteran Luke Bailey, who claimed the Paul Broughton Medal for player of the year in his eleventh season in the NRL. The prop was ably assisted upfront by the unheralded Michael Henderson and Brad Meyers while, in the backrow, Queensland Origin representative Ashley Harrison was tireless in defence.
But the biggest surprise packet of 2010 was the centre duo of Clinton Toopi and Steve Michaels. The former New Zealand star and Brisbane discard combed from Round 20 onwards and both enthusiastically relished their chance in the top grade. Meanwhile, four players didn't miss a game in 2010 - Meyers, Kevin Gordon, Mark Minichiello and Nathan Friend.
In a largely settled squad, only two players were handed their debuts. Young U20s forward Ryan James and Tweed Heads Segulls backrower Ben Ridge appeared in four matches off the bench. Both received limited game time but showed enough promise to suggest they will be a part of the club's future. The much hyped Shannon Walker was again erratic and only cracked the top seventeen once. His running game can be lethal but poor defence and handling remain an issue.
Of the more established NRL players, the talented William Zillman appears to have finally found some consistency. The 24-year old interchanged between the bench, fullback and wing but speed from the back added an extra dimension to the Titans attack.
The vital stats
Finished: 4th and Preliminary Finalists
Played: 24 matches (2 byes)
Won: 15 matches
Lost: 9 matches
Points for: 520 points
Points against: 498 points
Points differential: +22
Top pointscorer: Scott Prince (halfback) - 151 points [4 tries, 66 goals, 3 field goals]
Top tryscorer: Kevin Gordon (wing) - 12 tries
Club player of the year
Luke Bailey (prop)
The retirement of dual international Mat Rogers relieves John Cartwright of a selection headache and hopefully his obsession with playing Bird in the number six. Zillman should be the first choice custodian with Bird in the backrow and Campbell at five-eighth. However, Cartwright does face a dilemma in the centres - Joseph Tomane and Esi Tonga will be back in contention but the solid showings of Toopi and Michaels make them difficult to displace. But selection issues aside, on paper the Titans again look assured to make the top eight. As was the case this year, it will be the semi-finals where the true test lies.
2011 best lineup
1. William Zillman 2. Kevin Gordon 3. Joseph Tomane 4. Esi Tonga 5. David Mead 6. Preston Campbell 7. Scott Prince 8. Luke Bailey 9. Nathan Friend 10. Anthony Laffranchi 11. Greg Bird 12. Mark Minichiello 13. Ashley Harrison
Interchange: 14. Michael Henderson 15. Brad Meyers 16. Matt White 17. Bodene Thompson
Coach: John Cartwright