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Titans 2013 Season Preview

Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com Tue, Feb 19, 2013 - 11:00 AM
Gains: Dave Taylor (Rabbitohs), Mark Ioane (Raiders), Matthew Russell (Wigan), Brad Takairangi (Roosters). 

Losses: Bodene Thompson (Tigers), Phil Graham (retired), Scott Prince (Broncos), Brenton Lawrence (Sea Eagles), Dominique Peyroux (Warriors), Michael Henderson (Dragons), Kayne Lawton (Sea Eagles), Beau Champion (Rabbitohs).

Piece by piece the Titans are rebuilding an empire that almost crumbled in 2012. Yes, last season was one to forget for fans on the Gold Coast strip, but with the signing of one of rugby league’s most damaging forwards, a consolidated financial future and a restructured club administration, things – it would seem, at least – can only get better in 2013.

Weighed down by financial debt – much of it involving the much-touted ‘Centre of Excellence’ – and daily speculation regarding the club’s future, the football team understandably struggled last season. The Titans won just two of their opening nine matches, before a late-season rally boosted the club to an eventual 11th-placed finish with 10 wins and 14 losses. 

The decent-enough finish taking into account the off-field distractions only papered over some gaping cracks though – in 2012 the Titans finished near the bottom of the table in a number of key categories. Last season Gold Coast ended the year with incredibly poor records in errors (11.1 per match – 15th in the NRL), tackle-breaks (29.7 per match – 15th) and tries scored (3.2 per match – 12th). 

The Titans enter 2013 ready to make up for the poor showing in 2012 – and finally give their fans something to cheer about. After two years in the finals wilderness, management and coach John Cartwright have allowed star playmaker Scott Prince to move on and are building their hopes around boom five-eighth Aidan Sezer. Prince’s shock departure thrusts more responsibility upon Sezer’s shoulders – but, following a breakout season where he tallied nine try assists and six line-break assists, he looks ready for the challenge.

Ball-playing and running forward Dave Taylor also faces a challenge – the enigmatic Origin representative joins one of the biggest and most aggressive forward packs in the competition. How he gels with the team – and what impact he makes – will have a huge influence on the Titans’ chances of success in 2013.

How They’ll Play It
Expect the brigade of seasoned veterans to do a job up front for the Gold Coast – the Titans possess some of the most mature and professional forwards in the game. With a pack featuring Luke Bailey, Greg Bird, Luke Douglas, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison, Mark Minichiello, plus Ryan James, and now Taylor, there’s enough evidence to suggest Cartwright wants his biggest boppers to bust a game open in the middle and lay the winning foundation every week. 

Extra onus is thrust onto the forwards’ shoulders following Prince’s sudden exit – the Titans’ backline has been weakened and not a great deal is expected early on of green talents Jamie Dowling (1 NRL match), Albert Kelly (14 matches), Mark O’Dare (0 matches) and Anthony Don (0 matches).

Expect HUGE Things From
Gold Coast’s biggest concern at the start of 2012 was the position of five-eighth – who would fill the slot beside Scott Prince? Former Bulldog Sezer stepped up and proved his superstar-in-the-making status with an outstanding debut season that won him the club’s Rookie of the Year award. The five-eighth contributed a combined 21 line-break assists, try assists and line-breaks in his first NRL season. The religious East Hills junior might say a prayer before each game but Titans fans are hoping he answers theirs by staying on the field – and in fine form – for the duration of the 2013 season. If he does – and he finds a partner in crime in the halves – the Titans could well prove very tough to beat.

Bonus Points
Success breeds success – and the Titans are hoping the Maroons’ unequalled Origin dominance rubs off on their team, too. The Gold Coast now possess three forwards used by Queensland in their historic seven-series winning streak, in Harrison, Myles and Taylor. Their star pack also features a current Blue (Bird – 11 Origin appearances) as well as former NSW front-rower Bailey (15 Origins), and centre Jamal Idris (one Origin) is also a representative. The potential is there to do some serious damage.

Also, in Bird, Idris, Taylor and Takairangi they have high-frequency offloading capability both in centre-field and on the edges – Idris topped their count with 27 last year, while Bird was close behind with 24. New recruit Takairangi made 28 offloads in just 16 games for the Roosters, while Taylor hot-potato passed a massive 42 times in the red and green in 2012.

The Question Mark
How will the Titans score points? Last season Gold Coast finished the year ranked 11th for points scored (18.7 per match) and 12th for tries scored (3.2 per match)… and that was with a huge helping hand from now-Brisbane halfback Scott Prince! In 2012 the veteran playmaker laid on 21 tries and helped crack opponents’ lines on 13 occasions. There’s a sizeable void to fill at the Titans sans the former Australian and Queensland No.7 – and too much responsibility could cripple Sezer’s development. 

A good chunk of attacking ownership will fall to any of Jordan Rankin, Beau Henry or Albert Kelly - coach Cartwright’s likely options at halfback. The Titans have respectable talents out wide – including the likes of Idris, centre Steve Michaels, wingers Kevin Gordon and David Mead, and fullback and vice-captain Will Zillman – but the quality of ball they receive remains to be seen.

Who Needs To Lift?
A side that lacked winning drive and killer instinct in 2012 obviously has a lot to prove this season. The squad member with the biggest desire to lift, however, was at a different club last season. Former Rabbitoh Dave Taylor, one of the game’s most polarising players, will no doubt be aiming to silence the critics at his new home in 2013. A rocks-or-diamonds enigma who can turn a match’s momentum with any number of Hail Mary-style plays, Taylor is still smarting from his Origin III omission for Queensland – and he’s hoping 2013 is the season he finally finds consistency. A good sign for starters is the fact he’s reportedly shed six kilograms and is now tipping the scales at 120kg – his 17-year-old ‘fighting weight’.

Without an experienced No.7, the Titans could well send plenty of ball Taylor’s way in the hope of a miracle pass, deft grubber or line-smashing run. He’ll need to keep his head, though – last season Taylor committed a whopping 23 errors, ranked second-worst of all forwards in the competition. Cartwright might be requesting a tempered input from the skilful back-rower, especially as his team committed a glut of mistakes in 2012.

How’s Their Depth?
The heart of the Titans is strong, but away from their core of experienced journeymen the talent is spread worryingly thin. If injuries strike, especially at the ‘spine’ of the team, it could be another arduous season on the Gold Coast. Outside of Sezer, Cartwright has very skinny options in the halves… and the same can be said in other backline departments, too. They’re particularly short for numbers 1-5 (Beau Champion’s departure will hurt) – a reason they attempted to poach Sea Eagle Jamie Lyon in the off-season – and will rely at some stage on game-time from rookies like Dowling, Don and O’Dare. Cartwright will be praying to the football gods that his first-choice backline, revolving around the likes of Sezer, Idris, Zillman, Mead and Michaels, remains on the park for the majority of the season.

Dream Team Bankers
Hard to go past the Gold Coast forwards for value-packed performances. Ashley Harrison ($342,000 – 43.5 points per game) and Nate Myles ($363,000 – 46.14 points per game), in particular, offering the Dream Team fanatic plenty of value in the pack. Out wide, consider taking a punt on livewire attacking dynamo Albert Kelly ($156,300). The former Shark is a wildcard and should be given plenty of opportunities in the Titans’ line-up in 2013 after a year in the footballing wilderness.

The Coach
It seems John Cartwright’s position as the only coach in Titans history is secure… for now. How long the Gold Coast board remains satisfied with below-average finishes remains to be seen, though. The former Panthers back-rower – tied to the club on a long-term deal until the end of 2016 – is surely desperate to propel his team back into finals contention after two bitterly disappointing seasons. Much will rest on the outcome of the decision to let linchpin half Prince walk away from the club: will the team, in Prince’s absence, prosper or plunder? Another ordinary year could bring rumblings of a need for change.

Under-20s
The Titans’ young guns had the blues big time in 2012 – they won just five matches all season, the same depressing stat as the year before. Coach Jamie O’Connor is, however, hopeful of better things to come… and there are reasons for his squad to remain upbeat. Several players return for another year of NYC in 2013, including boom centre Hymel Hunt, who starred for his team last year with nine tries, 67 tackle-breaks and 10 line-breaks. Others to keep an eye on include English recruit, outside back Matt Russell, who played first grade for Wigan in the English Super League, and back-rower Zach Friend, brother of Roosters NRL hooker Jake.

Predicted Finish
Luck plays a big part in football – and it’ll play a sizeable role in the Titans’ 2013 season. With a strong core group of players but little depth outside the top 17, Gold Coast fans and staff will be crossing their fingers and toes, hoping the football gods treat them favourably. If injuries do strike, there’s little to suggest they’ll even challenge for a finals berth. We can’t see them completely avoiding injuries… or making the eight. Given the depth across the NRL their ladder rung could be as low as 13th.