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Mid-season review: Gold Coast Titans

Position after 13 rounds: 10th
Wins: 5
Losses: 7
Byes: 1
Competition points: 12
Differential: -26

Had this been penned a month ago, we would be busy dissecting exactly how it had all gone wrong for a second consecutive season for the Titans, after they’d limped their way to just two wins from their opening nine games. But how quickly fortunes can change.

Three wins in a row – against Canterbury, Newcastle and North Queensland – have John Cartwright’s men beginning to show the promise that their star-studded roster promised and no doubt those sides in the firing line in the coming weeks will be looking over their shoulders with a mix of interest... and dread.

Of course, Cartwright said this would happen. Even when last year’s wooden-spooners picked up where they left off in 2011, he insisted that they were playing too well to be losing, and predicted a series of wins was just around the corner.

True to his word, the Titans have moved themselves to within striking distance of the leading pack in recent weeks and, were it not for a freak play by Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah in Round 9 to steal a remarkable win, they could be positioned even better.

That’s not to suggest that 10th was where Cartwright would have envisioned his side sitting at the halfway point of the year. Having undergone considerable player upheaval in the off-season and welcoming the likes of Jamal Idris, Nate Myles, Luke Douglas and Beau Champion, expectation was certainly high that the Titans could push for a top-eight berth at the very least in 2012, if not higher.

Instead, they were slow off the mark with the hangover of last year’s struggles apparently taking a while to dissipate. Despite an 18-0 win over a dismal North Queensland in Round 1, the Gold Coast embarked on a five-game losing streak immediately afterwards that quickly put them on the back foot.

However, it was probably no coincidence that the team’s struggles coincided with widespread reports of the club’s dire financial situation and criticism of the actions of chief executive Michael Searle. So damning were the reports that the NRL was forced to guarantee player payments, before some of the immediate pressure was eased by the long-awaited sale of the club’s Centre of Excellence.

With the negative publicity out of the way, the Titans have since won four of six games to give themselves a decent shot at the finals. The coming weeks will go a long way towards helping that cause.

Are Things Going to Plan? They are starting to. After a slow beginning to the year, things are looking up with the Titans not only competing but finally earning some rewards for their efforts.

The return from injury of halfback and captain Scott Prince has been the catalyst for their improves results of late and after a difficult start to the year with injuries across the board, coach John Cartwright is starting to enjoy some much-needed stability within his squad.

Injury Front… Injuries played a significant role in the Titans’ slow start to the year, with a number of their big names spending time on the sidelines. The Gold Coast have used 25 players to date, which puts them in the middle of the pack when compared with other sides. However, they have been hampered from the outset with Jamal Idris struggling with a hamstring injury at the start of the year, centre Beau Champion struck down by a neck injury and  winger Kevin Gordon only returning from a serious knee injury in Round 5. Scott Prince, David Mead, Luke O’Dwyer, Bodene Thompson and Matthew White have also missed games through injury.

If Only… They had downed the Tigers at home in Round 9. Leading 14-12 with just a minute remaining, Jordan Rankin’s clearing kick was charged down by Robbie Farah, who then toed the ball ahead only to be taken out by Titans fullback Phil Graham. Benji Marshall slotted the penalty goal on the siren to send the game into golden point before Farah stepped up again to steal victory with a field-goal in extra time. It was one that got away for the Gold Coast.

Who’s Flying… Back-rowers Greg Bird and Nate Myles have been strong all year. Bird, a favourite of NSW coach Ricky Stuart, has averaged 136 metres and 20 tackles as well as adding 41 tackle-breaks while Myles has averaged 112 metres and 35 tackles.

Needs to Lift… Jamal Idris has impressed in the Titans’ recent wins but he needs to continue to improve if they are to surge home into the finals. Idris is averaging just 67 metres per game in his nine games so far in 2012 – as their big-name signing this season he must make his presence known.

Coach John Cartwright tells NRL.com… “It’s hard not to look at the results for our fans but from a coaching perspective we’ve been pretty happy with how we’ve gone all year. We haven’t always been able to turn that into wins but the past three weeks we have.

“Winning makes everyone feel a little bit better about themselves and the players are all feeling good. The Origin boys are fresh and enthusiastic. Winning will do that to you!

“Unfortunately the position we’ve left ourselves in now is that every win is so important but we’ve just got to try to not focus on that too much. It’s not about thinking we have to go out there and win, we just have to go out there and play well.”

Predicted Finish… The coming five to six weeks will make all the difference for the Titans. They can look forward to a crucial home game against Penrith in Round 15 and a bye two weeks later but face tough trips to Cronulla, Illawarra and Auckland in the same period.

Only weeks ago the idea that the Titans could make the finals sounded preposterous but they are certainly on the improve and a good run in the coming weeks would put them right in the mix. We see them finishing anywhere from seventh to 12th.

Under-20s… Having finished 14th in 2011, the junior Titans have slipped even further this season, with just one win from 12 starts seeing them struck in 15th spot on the Toyota Cup ladder. That they aren’t running dead last is only due to the fact current cellar dwellar Manly have yet to bank a bye.  

Attack has been the side’s biggest problem – their 199 points by far the fewest scored by any team this season.

Injuries and poor form haven’t helped their cause, with 30 players used so far in 2012 and highly rated half Matthew Beddow featuring just five times.

Centre Hymel Hunt has been one bright spot for the side this season, the 18-year-old averaging 135 metres per game out wide.

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