Nicholas Janzen,, NRL.com
They’re a rebuilt, refined and re-energised side that coach John Cartwright believes could well prove the NRL entertainers this season. Introducing the new Gold Coast Titans of 2013 – a team that, led by new halves pairing Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly and marquee forward signing Dave Taylor, Cartwright believes is bound to keep fans on the edge of their seats the entire year.
Expansive football is going to be the key focus of the Titans’ game plan across season 2013, a style that clearly suits the new team members but something that may take an adjustment period for the rest of the squad.
Already the Titans have announced their intentions, leading the NRL for offloads after Round 1 with a whopping 15 delivered against the Sharks last week. Major contributors to that tally included Taylor and Greg Bird with three each, and Albert Kelly and Kevin Gordon who popped two apiece. All up 11 of the 17 players who took to the field managed at least one offload.
“[Halves Sezer and Kelly] were really dangerous [against the Sharks],” coach John Cartwright tells NRL.com. “We’ve got to adjust to the style – we’ve got a totally different half this year and we’ve got to adjust to that. A few times there [Kelly] seized on some opportunities and if it was Thurston, you know, Bowen would’ve been there to snap on the try.”
The only coach in the Titans’ history says the entertaining yet unstructured style of play his team – and his recruits – now offer will prove a huge challenge for opponents as his team gels. His disclaimer, however, is that it would occur only if they respected possession of the football.
“[Fullback William Zillman’s] still getting to know Albert – [Albert’s] a lot more off the cuff than we’ve had in the past – but that’s the hardest thing to defend,” Cartwright says.
“The set plays you don’t mind that, you close them down, but the guys who are will-o’-the-wisp who can come up with tries from nothing, to me you can’t defend that. I think that’s the way the game is going.
“As long as we’re winning we’re happy to be called the entertainers. You can’t win any games when you’re turning ball over and in the first half last week we were a bit over 50 per cent… you can’t win against anyone with that sort of completion rate. It’s finding a balance and finding discipline – in the second half we did it better and there’s something to work on there.
“You’ve got to earn the right [to play expansive football] – you back them to make the right decisions – but the pass is not always on. Your decision-making is critical. We were about 50-50 [against Cronulla]. That’s a work in progress. Albert really threatened their line – I know their big forwards towards the end of the game were wishing he wasn’t going to run.”
Cartwright says there were a large number of positives to take into the Round 2 clash against Canberra at Skilled Park on Sunday afternoon.
“You’re disappointed when you lose – every loss is like a knife going through the heart – but there were some really good signs there,” he says.
“I felt for the players, it was always going to be tough going up against Cronulla – they’re a good side and played semi-finals last year, they’ve bought well and it was an emotional match for them. We pushed them all the way – I thought our defence was really good. Our cohesion in the first half wasn’t great but in the second half it was much better and we really threatened them.”
Particularly threatening was Rabbitohs recruit Dave Taylor. The behemoth back-rower proved a huge threat on the edges for his new team, particularly as the game neared its conclusion. The Titans know they have a game-breaker on their roster in Taylor – they just have to discover how to harness his undoubted potential. The 188cm, 123kg Blackwater Crushers junior ran for 106 metres, popped three offloads and broke a tackle in a promising display for his new team. Cartwright is excited about his potential, even after limited opportunities to impress in the off-season.
“I thought it took him a while to get into the game – we were defending a lot early – but when he came on in that second stint and we really needed something he came on and played his best football,” Cartwright says.
“We’ve got to work out exactly where he fits in to our line-up – he had a very limited pre-season through injury – so what he needs now is football.”
Cartwright stressed the importance of the Round 2 clash against the Raiders at home – a venue his side struggled to win at last season. In 2012 the Gold Coast won just three of their matches at Skilled Park, a substandard return that kept them out of finals reckoning. An improved effort is required if the Titans are to feature in the finals series this season.
He knows if they continue to throw the ball around and generate opportunities they will trouble the visitors, who conceded the second-most offloads in a season opener (13) when defeated by Penrith.
“[Playing well at home] is everything,” Cartwright admits. “The boys are very conscious of our fans and the community we live in. We’re all aware the Gold Coast needs a winning rugby league team and rugby league needs a winning Gold Coast team.
“It starts [this] week and if we can mimic that second half [against Cronulla] and improve a few other little areas, we’re going to be hard to beat.”