2018 Review: Gold Coast Titans

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Started from the bottom, where to from here?

Dealing with the aftermath of the acrimonious Jarryd Hayne - Neil Henry fallout, initial expectations of the Gold Coast Titans were far from optimistic in 2018. Widely tipped to run last and with rookie coach Garth Brennan afforded the unenviable prospect of turning around the club's fortunes, a 14th-placed finish may have been marginally better than twelve months earlier, yet for as bleak as predictions were before a ball had been kicked, the lessons learnt should pave the way for brighter days to come.

Beginning the year with a high-scoring win over the Raiders at home, the form displayed in the 30-28 victory revealed a number of enduring truths about the side; mainly a strong preference for attacking football and an inability to thrive in low-scoring affairs. Displaced by the Commonwealth Games until the end of April, an erratic run of form saw masterful displays against Brisbane away from home followed up by error-riddled performances that ensured consistency remained at bay. Limited by one of the weaker rosters in the competition, big-money recruits Bryce Cartwright and Leilani Latu were relegated to reserve grade due to poor form, however in the wake of coach Brennan's willingness to forego reputation, two teenagers stepped up to inject life into the side's faltering campaign. Inspired by utility AJ Brimson and prop Moeaki Fotuaika, strong showings against Newcastle (33-26), Canterbury (32-10) and Wests Tigers (30-12) gave rise to an unlikely finals bid that came to a shattering halt prior to Origin Three.

Drawn the good fortune of facing the Broncos on the Gold Coast minus a host of representative stars, the ensuing 80 minutes devastated the Titans as their neighbouring rivals claimed a brutal 34-0 whitewash to drive home the team's shortcomings amongst the NRL hierarchy. Managing just two wins over the final eight weeks, signs of improvement began to emerge with narrow losses to heavyweights Penrith (16-17) and Melbourne (8-10), while with the largest home crowd since 2010 on hand to farewell NRL legend Johnathan Thurston, the initial wooden spoon favourites threatened an upset before going down narrowly to round out a largely disappointing year, yet one not without hope for the future.

Turning point

While the Round 17 embarrassment at the hands of Brisbane signalled the death knell of the club's top eight hopes, the line in the sand for the Titans manifested in the approach taken towards team selection. Much like the difficult task afforded to Nathan Brown at Newcastle two years ago, the challenge of determining which players to persevere with highlighted Brennan's mettle in his first year in charge. Willing to axe established first graders Leilani Latu, Bryce Cartwright, Konrad Hurrell and Kane Elgey due to substandard performances, the former Penrith assistant's uncompromising approach paid dividends with fringe players Phillip Sami and Keegan Hipgrave earning upgraded deals for their strong contributions, while in a major show of confidence marquee players Ashley Taylor and Jarrod Wallace spurned interest from cashed-up rivals to commit to the rebuild.

What worked

At their best the Titans thrived against loose opponents with an engaging brand of attacking football that played to the strengths of the side's young playmakers. Scoring at least five tries in each of their eight victories, the attacking mentality allowed wingers Phillip Sami and Anthony Don to go try-for-try throughout the year with late bloomer Don's career best tally of 15 four-pointers drawing him alongside David Mead as the club's all-time leading tryscorer. Producing their lowest winning score of 26 points against Brisbane, the thriving attack proved fruitful on a number of occasions, but against defence-oriented rivals the point scoring mindset came up short.

What didn't

In a year that saw the minor premiers finish one win ahead of the eighth-placed Warriors, the Titans completely missed the mark in grinding out narrow results. Far from outclassed by competition heavyweights Sydney (12-20), Melbourne (8-10), Souths (16-18), Cronulla (9-10) and Penrith (16-17), the side's inability to close out results was most prominently on display during the Round 22 calamity against the Panthers where a 16-6 lead with five minutes to play resulted in a golden point loss to the bewilderment of everyone in attendance. While high scoring come-from-behind results against Canberra (30-28), Newcastle (33-26) and Manly (42-34) highlighted the attacking prowess present throughout the squad, the defensive tenacity that allowed sides such as the Roosters, Tigers and Storm to secure wins through a single try never once threatened to eventuate for the Titans.

Best players

Largely known as one of many emerging interchange forwards developed by the Broncos during Wayne Bennett's return, Jai Arrow enjoyed a stellar season to cement his place as a starting first grader while breaking into the representative arena to boot. Starting in 21 matches after managing just three run-on appearances previously, the 23-year-old Queenslander featured in all three matches for the Maroons, including as starting prop in Game Three. Other to impress included captain Ryan James whose continued strong form warranted inclusion in the extended New South Wales squad, while as the only player to feature in every match Anthony Don was rewarded with a two-year extension tying him to the Gold Coast until the end of 2020.

Rookies

With only Newcastle, Penrith and Brisbane fielding squads with an average age younger than the Gold Coast, the youthful approach taken by Garth Brennan resulted in several exciting prospects outshining a number of more experienced players. Equally capable in the halves and at fullback, AJ Brimson proved the most consistent foil to Ashley Taylor, while despite being the third youngest player in the competition Moeaki Fotuaika gained plenty of plaudits for performances beyond his years. Despite a third of the 27 players used throughout the year being 22 or under, the only other debutant blooded by Garth Brennan was forward Jai Whitebread who will be eager to add to his sole appearance post-Origin with a strong off-season.

Feeder clubs round-up

Experiencing a mixed bag among the three Intrust Super Cup teams aligned with the club, the heights of preliminary finalists Burleigh were significantly tempered by poor showings from 11th-placed Tweed Heads and 13th-placed Central Queensland. Of the players to potentially feature in first grade in the future, former Newcastle utility Dylan Phythian finished the year strongly after serving a 12-match ban for recording a second strike under the NRL's illicit drugs policy, while Kiah Cooper and Tony Mata'utia will be pushing for first grade debuts after being elevated into the top 30 squad later in the year. At Under 20's level, all three clubs finished outside the top six in the Hastings Deering Colts competition.

2019 Chances

Taking a proactive approach towards recruitment by securing the signatures of Tyrone Roberts, Shannon Boyd, Ryley Jacks and Tyrone Peachey, the Titans have the potential to move up the ladder, but whether their defence and resolve is capable of challenging the NRL elite will have a large say in where the side finishes up at seasons end.

Best lineup for next season

Based on current signings:

1. AJ Brimson
2. Anthony Don
3. Phillip Sami
4. Tyrone Peachey
5. Michael Gordon
6. Tyrone Roberts
7. Ashley Taylor
8. Jarrod Wallace
9. Nathan Peats
10. Shannon Boyd
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Ryan James (C)
13. Jai Arrow

14. Bryce Cartwright
15. Moeaki Fotuaika
16. Jack Stockwell
17. Keegan Hipgrave

2018 Results

1
Gold Coast Titans 30
Canberra Raiders 28
W
2
Warriors 20
Gold Coast Titans 8
L
3
Gold Coast Titans 8
St George Illawarra Dragons 54
L
4
Brisbane Broncos 14
Gold Coast Titans 26
W
5
Gold Coast Titans 32
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
W
6
Penrith Panthers 35
Gold Coast Titans 12
L
7
North Queensland Cowboys 26
Gold Coast Titans 14
L
8
Gold Coast Titans 9
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 10
L
9
Canberra Raiders 32
Gold Coast Titans 18
L
10
Melbourne Storm 28
Gold Coast Titans 14
L
11
Gold Coast Titans 33
Newcastle Knights 26
W
12
Sydney Roosters 34
Gold Coast Titans 14
L
13
Gold Coast Titans 0
BYE
14
Gold Coast Titans 16
South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
L
15
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 10
Gold Coast Titans 32
W
16
Wests Tigers 12
Gold Coast Titans 30
W
17
Gold Coast Titans 0
Brisbane Broncos 34
L
18
Gold Coast Titans 12
Sydney Roosters 20
L
19
Newcastle Knights 30
Gold Coast Titans 24
L
20
Gold Coast Titans 36
Warriors 12
W
21
Parramatta Eels 28
Gold Coast Titans 12
L
22
Gold Coast Titans 16
Penrith Panthers 17
L
23
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 34
Gold Coast Titans 42
W
24
Gold Coast Titans 8
Melbourne Storm 10
L
25
Gold Coast Titans 26
North Queensland Cowboys 30
L

By the Stats

18
Competition Points
8
Matches Won
0
Matches Drawn
16
Matches Lost
472
Points Scored
582
Points Conceded