Titans giant Dave Taylor cuts a dejected figure after a seventh straight loss at home on the weekend. Credit: Col Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos
Senior officials at the Titans have defended the decision to conduct an internal review as their team strives to remain in finals contention, insisting off-field distractions are not the cause for the team's recent poor run of form.
Last Saturday's loss to the Eels – their seventh loss at home in succession – has handed the Titans the equation of needing five wins from their last six games to be a chance of qualifying for the finals with games against the Cowboys (away), Roosters (away), Sea Eagles (home) and Dragons (away) facing them over the next month.
Following a training session this morning where Greg Bird, Brad Takairangi, Kalifa Faifai Loa and Paul Carter were all notable absentees, players attended a pre-arranged meeting called by club CEO Graham Annesley.
The meeting lasted all of 10 minutes and was used to introduce players to Dr Dave Arthur from Sport Business Resources who has begun his investigation into the entire operations at the club as part of the board's internal review.
The NRL are also investigating salary cap irregularities reported by the current Titans administration believed to be in the vicinity of $400,000 and there is mounting pressure on coach John Cartwright but Annesley believes the communication with players is not inhibiting their performances.
"The best thing we can do is to communicate with the players and tell them why we're doing it and that it is in the best interests of the club long term," Annesley said.
"If it's in the best interests of the club long term it's also in the best interests of the players long term.
"They knew very well before they walked in [to the meeting] that this was just a follow-up meeting from last week where we talked about the review. I told them last week that as soon as we appointed someone to undertake the review that we would come back and introduce that person."
That person is Dr Arthur, a rugby union-playing Englishman who has worked in a consultancy fashion with the NRL and South Sydney Rabbitohs previously and is the CEO of Sport Business Resources.
His review of on and off-field operations at the Titans commenced with interviews of two Titans board members on Monday morning and he has commended the club for taking proactive steps, expecting to deliver his recommendations within a month.
"This is actually a sign of a healthy club. Doing a review such as this is an enormous positive rather than waiting until things go really bad," Dr Arthur said. "Things aren't really bad from what I can see so let's do the review and make some recommendations and then improve."
Coach Cartwright, who reiterated that he is as energetic and enthusiastic about coaching the Titans as he was on his first day on the job, backed up Annesley's statements by suggesting that players are not affected by off-field speculation.
"I think players are immune to that stuff now. When it happens it's a major event and there are a number of clubs going through it at the moment," Cartwright said.
"We've had our fair share of issues as well but players play and administrators look after that side of things and I think that's pretty well ingrained in the players.
"As far as I'm aware we'll continue to do what we've been doing. We've still got some decisions to make on players [for 2015] but as far as I'm aware it's just business as usual and this [salary cap] issue goes back a couple of years.
"I'll let the guys who know what they're doing look after that and we'll just try and look after the football team."
The Titans shot to an unlikely position at the top of the table on the back of a 5-1 start to the season, a winning run they now need to replicate to feature in the finals for the first time since 2010.
William Zillman and David Mead (both hamstring injuries) are both a chance to return to the side to face the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday evening but prop Luke Bailey (hamstring) and five-eighth Aidan Sezer (pectoral) are facing a further 1-2 weeks on the sidelines.
"If you have a look at the table, the top eight's that close I'm sure anyone can get into the top eight at the moment," said prop Matthew White.
"There are a lot of teams on about 20 points so hopefully we can get five out of the six and sneak into the semis.
"The players' spirits are always pretty high so the off-field drama, we don't let it bother us."