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The good fight takes a good man

The good fight takes a good man
John Cartwright will oversee preparations for the Titans for the 192nd and final time on Monday night. Credit: Col Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos
More than anything last Saturday night following his side's loss to the Cowboys in Townsville, John Cartwright looked like a man who could have done with a beer.

Perhaps if I hadn't been sitting at the table with a group of Titans officials back at the hotel he may have very well sat down and had one.

I've since been told that when he tells the players there's no point having a drink because there's nothing to celebrate, he too abstains from alcohol so even in my absence he wouldn't have sat down, but I'm not so sure.

He looked like a man who wanted to talk but was perhaps fearful of the words that would come out. In the post-match press conference he mentioned the need to be conscious that every game could be your last, a line at best I thought may have come at the urging of his subconscious.

He stayed at our table only briefly and upon leaving it was mentioned that he had been having trouble sleeping. Whether that was an issue brought on by another frustrating loss or the effects of the dark clouds hanging over his coaching future at the club I'm not in a position to answer but it was clear another season of more losses than wins was taking its toll.

The community aspect on which Cartwright insisted was the bedrock of the club has been unable to make up for a lack of resources in the football department that made recruitment problematic and highly-prized signatures elusive.

Recent high-profile recruits such as Jamal Idris and Dave Taylor have had varying levels of success while the financial constraints in which the club has had operate has seen 'last chances' handed out to players with troubled backgrounds (Albert Kelly and James Roberts) and promising youngsters from other clubs lured with the opportunity to play first grade (Aidan Sezer and Paul Carter).

"It's a tough environment to compete in now. There are a lot of clubs out there with a lot of resources and a lot of cash and they're making it hard to compete. We're not like that and we're probably never going to be like that, we're going to have to find what works for us," Cartwright explained on the day he tendered his resignation as Titans coach, Monday night's game against the Roosters his farewell swansong.

"I've noticed over the last couple of years, we've spoken to some very high profile players but the change in the salary cap laws and the actually lifting of the salary cap and the grant hasn't really helped clubs that don't get a lot of corporate support.

"It has made it harder to recruit top quality players. To compete with clubs that have a huge leagues club backing or corporate backing, it's made it pretty difficult to get those players."

Although the Gold Coast remains one of the most popular holiday destinations in Australia, co-captain Greg Bird believes the Titans suffer in similar ways to the Cowboys and Raiders in convincing players that it is a place they can make their home.

"A lot of rugby league players are based in Sydney and live around clubs in Sydney and it's not comfortable to leave your home and move away to the Gold Coast," Bird said.

"It's not something that everyone would want to do so it is a little bit tougher for clubs like the Cowboys, Gold Coast and Canberra to lure those players."

Another area in which the club has identified a major deficiency is in junior development through the under-20s system and into first grade.

Caleb Binge is the only player from last year's under-20s Titans squad to make an appearance in the top grade this season and while this year's team have been competitive in the majority of games they have played, they are on track to finish in the bottom three for the fourth year in succession.

The appointment of Ben Woolf over the pre-season was the first time the Titans had employed a full-time under-20s coach and the club has also launched a junior pathway program for talented young Gold Coast players designed to indoctrinate them in the way of the Titans.

They are steps towards ensuring the club can adopt a self-sustaining model well into the future but the overwhelming sense in the community is that director Michael Searle had to step aside in order for the healing process to being in the wake of the failed Centre of Excellence at Robina.

The prospect of four straight years without finals football ultimately cost Cartwright his position but his senior players spoke glowingly of the influence he has had not only on their football, but their lives in his eight seasons as head coach.

On Wednesday they said they wouldn't be adopting a 'Do it for Carty' attitude, but after all he has given to the establishment of the Titans perhaps that's exactly the mantra they need to carry forward.

"I definitely wouldn't be in the NRL to be honest if it wasn't for 'Searley' and 'Carty'," said Bird.

"As everyone knows I went through my dramas and I was quite happy to stay over in France and play out the rest of my years over there but I was given the opportunity to come back and be a part of the Gold Coast away from the hustle and bustle of the city and I'm very grateful to both those men for giving me that opportunity."

Added vice-captain William Zillman: "I've been coached by [Cartwright] now for six years and it's a sad time for the club and myself personally. He's certainly built a culture at the club. When the club formed in 2007 they bought a lot of players into the club like Anthony Laffranchi and 'Princey' (foundation captain Scott Prince) and all those guys who had been there and done that and along with 'Carty', they really brought a culture to the club.

"It's up to us now to make sure that we keep that culture going."
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