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Bulldogs happy to fly under the radar against self-imploding Titans
Fast-forward less than six months and the strained relationship between player and coach has claimed the casualty of the man responsible for turning the Titans into a competitive outfit after years of mediocrity.
At the time the signing of Jarryd Hayne was seen as the pièce de résistance the Titans needed to challenge for a premiership, yet in signing unquestionably one of the most talented players to ever set foot on a football field, the culture developed by Henry was sold out in favour of a marketing move made with little regard for the implications that have come to pass.
During his tenure as coach of the Gold Coast, Henry instituted a recruitment strategy whether by necessity or design was based around providing opportunities to players unable to secure a regular position at the other 15 clubs. In the case of Ashley Taylor, the likelihood of featuring in first grade at Brisbane was minimal at best; yet by shifting to the Titans, the 22-year-old has developed into one of the brightest prospects in the league. Likewise, the former Canberra and North Queensland coach took a chance on a 25-year-old Tongan forward seemingly past the age of debuting in first grade; under Henry's tutelage Leivaha Pulu has gone from reserve grader at Wyong to penning a multi-year deal with the Warriors for next season.
Neil Henry's Titans were an organisation to be admired for their lack of fanfare, a quality clearly at odds with Jarryd Hayne.
To place the blame solely on the former Eel would be overly simplistic, as the Titans management indulged a media circus that created a ludicrous degree of coverage to the point that subscription viewers could view his every movement through ‘Hayne Cam'. To blame Hayne for being paid in excess of $1 million is not his fault, however with that salary comes an expectation that his performance would exceed the form displayed throughout 2017.
Neither Hayne nor Henry are entirely at fault or free from blame in this debacle. With the Titans management making the decision to part ways with Henry, the responsibility of Hayne to justify his price tag will only intensify. Whether he succeeds or not is difficult to say, but having claimed the battle between player and coach, he must deliver or else the outcome of the war will not go his way.
In the media circus that has engulfed the NRL of late, a Round 25 fixture between two out of contention sides justifiably seems like an afterthought, yet the match has generated a degree of intrigue that seven days ago would be severely lacking.
With assistant coaches Terry Matterson and Craig Hodges taking charge in the interim, the Titans will be hopeful of an immediate reversal of fortune. Naming Jarryd Hayne and Jarrod Wallace in place of the injured John Olive and Ryan James, the besieged side will be hoping the Bulldogs poor form at Robina persists, having claimed four wins from five clashes at the venue.
Coming off the back of their finest performance in some time, the Bulldogs will travel to the sunshine state comfortably under the radar with the intention of finishing 2017 on a high note. Retaining the same squad that triumphed 30-16 over Manly last Saturday, coach Des Hasler has named star trio Sam Kasiano, Josh Reynolds and Greg Eastwood on an extended bench in a move that could enhance the Belmore clubs chances. Winning the past two clashes against the Gold Coast, the Bulldogs appear to have released themselves of the constraints imposed by Des Hasler's statistical regime and will striving to inflict further misery upon their opponents.
Who to watch: Starting 2017 as a complete unknown to all but die-hard Gold Coast supporters, Morgan Boyle has been a breakout star in a largely underwhelming year for the Titans. In a forward pack boasting the reputations of numerous representative stars, the 21-year-old Canberra native thrived under the coaching of Neil Henry while repaying the confidence shown with a series of assured performances. Drawing interest from multiple rival clubs, Boyle is locked down on the Gold Coast until the end of 2020 and looks set to become a permanent starting fixture in the sides forward pack, in a sign that while the Titans have shown preference towards high-profile signings, the success of the side lies in untried and journeymen players eager to seize an opportunity.
In a year of immense disappointment for Canterbury, the emergence of young flyer Marcelo Montoya has been a breath of fresh air in a largely stagnant side. Touted as a player to watch following an impressive resume in the lower grades, the 21-year-old has cemented a place on the flank made famous by the legendary Hazem El Masri and just like the Bulldogs most-capped player, Montoya has proven himself to be more than capable of crossing the stripe with ten tries to his name. Averaging just under 100 metres per game, the Fijian international will be out to finish the season strongly in order to secure his place in the Bati World Cup squad, while ensuring that regardless of who is in charge at Belmore in 2018, Montoya remains a constant fixture in the NRL team.
My tip: Prior to the Bulldogs shock win over Manly last Sunday, I anticipated the Gold Coast would prove far too strong. However, after a series of events that defy the logic of many rugby league pundits, the Titans face a very tough fortnight before they can move on to greener pastures. Bulldogs by 20.
1. Jarryd Hayne 2. Anthony Don 3. Dale Copley 4. Phillip Sami 5. William Zillman 6. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Nathan Peats 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Kevin Proctor 16. Leivaha Pulu 13. Max King 14. Kane Elgey 12. Joe Greenwood 17. Paterika Vaivai 18. Morgan Boyle
1. William Hopoate 2. Brett Morris 3. Josh Morris 4. Brenko Lee 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Matt Frawley 7. Moses Mbye 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Michael Lichaa 10. James Graham 11. Josh Jackson 12. Adam Elliot 13. David Klemmer 15. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 16. Danny Fualalo 17. Sam Kasiano 19. Francis Tualau