Dave Taylor could become the best player in the game, according to Titans teammate Aidan Sezer. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
A win over the Roosters and a golden-point loss to the Storm in their final two games of 2013 is proof enough that the Titans have the roster to challenge for the title.
1. Double a plus
The rugby league world was left stunned when foundation co-captain Scott Prince walked away from the Titans as pre-season training for the 2013 season kicked into gear and the Gold Coast club was left with an untried five-eighth and a halfback beset by disciplinary problems and signed only on an incentive-based contract. But like the odd couple that they are, the combination of Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly worked. Both were standout junior talents and while Sezer's climb to the NRL – having been a member of the NYC Team of the Year while playing for the Bulldogs in 2010 – saw a more traditional progression, Kelly had stints at the Sharks and Knights before receiving his Gold Coast lifeline.
In 2013 Kelly ranked 17th in the NRL in try assists (13) while Sezer's 12 ranked him 19th, making the Titans one of only four teams to have two players ranked in the top-20 in that category. Kelly's total of nine line breaks was second only to Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans for all halfbacks while Sezer kicked goals at an 85.2 per cent success rate. It's a combination of the fast feet and the cool head and it's one that should only get better in 2014.
2. Slimmer, sleeker 'Coal Train'
The way he finished the 2013 season left league pundits scratching their heads for answers yet again: why can't Dave Taylor play like that all the time? When you are blessed with a 122-kilogram frame and silky skills much is expected and quite simply the one-Test wonder is yet to deliver on a consistent basis. But if his appearance in week one of pre-season training was any indication, then the 'Coal Train' might be gearing up for an extended stint at top speed.
Talk around the Titans was that Taylor returned to training between five to 10 kilograms lighter than when he finished season 2013, giving him the physical grounding to cause havoc in 2014. Taylor topped 100 running metres in each of his last six games of the season (averaging 150 per game and racking up 199m against the Roosters in Round 25) and three of his four most productive games in terms of tackle breaks were the last three of the season. Taylor at his best transforms the Titans into genuine premiership contenders.
3. Two heads are better
A quick examination of the best performing teams in the NRL last season highlights the importance of a coaching structure built around a team effort. Roosters coach Trent Robinson had Paul Green and Jason Taylor on his staff, with Green now the Cowboys head coach and Taylor narrowly missing out on a return to the top job at the Eels. Their grand final opponents, Manly, boasted the input of Brad Arthur and Andrew Johns, with Arthur now stepping up at Parramatta and 'Joey' one of the game's Immortals.
Titans head coach John Cartwright has been ably assisted in the past by assistants Steve Murphy and Trevor Gillmeister but the addition of former Cowboys head coach Neil Henry to the staff is a major coup for the club. Henry was a key figure in Queensland's re-emergence as the dominant Origin force between 2006 and 2009 and in the past two years has been forced to endure cruel exits from consecutive finals series. Some may consider that such an appointment serves to undermine Cartwright's authority but recent history is proving that a collaborative effort is most effective.
4. Bottle that spirit
There was no David Mead. William Zillman was missing. Jamal Idris hadn't been sighted for months and Ashley Harrison and Luke O'Dwyer had both seen their seasons come to a premature end. When Greg Bird was desperately searching for his first breather of the game late in the second half Trevor Gillmeister ran on with a water bottle and the news that he was now playing in the middle.
They were playing a full-strength Sydney Roosters away from home, the team destined to be 2013 premiers, and somehow the Titans found a way to win. It was arguably the most courageous win in the club's short history and kept a glimmering hope of a finals appearance flickering for another week.
Six days later they travelled to Melbourne to face a Storm side that two weeks earlier had put 64 points on the Eels and were looking for one last pre-finals tune-up. It went to golden point and but for a contentious 'no try' call on a runaway Aidan Sezer the Titans could have beaten them, too. It was determined, gritty, unrelenting, inspiring, unyielding… the type of football you'd expect from a team with the likes of Bird, Myles, Harrison, Douglas and Bailey on its roster. If the Titans bring that same attitude into 2014 and they'll win more than they'll lose.
5. Complete to compete
It's the most used stat in the game but that doesn't mean it's not the most important. Completing sets, maintaining possession and pressuring the opposition into error is the foundation for any win in the modern game and it was the key factor in the Titans' strong finish to 2013. Only seven times in 2013 did the Titans complete more than 80 per cent of their sets, and in three of those games they defeated the Roosters, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs while going down to the Storm in golden point in another. Interestingly, twice they completed more than 80 per cent of their sets against the Warriors yet lost both games, losses that proved to be the difference in qualifying for the finals.
In their 13 losses last year only three times did the Titans complete their sets at a better percentage than their opposition. It's a simple formula but it makes a big difference to what your team is doing come September.