Nigel Wall, NRL.com
1. Things can only get better
After taking baby steps in their first two years in the NRL in 2007-’08, the Titans made the semi-finals in 2009 and were preliminary finalists in 2010 – but their rock-solid veneer crumbled last year when they finished dead last. Ouch! Perhaps a fall was inevitable: they entered the year without retired playmaker Mat Rogers, had to make do without Brad Meyers for almost the whole season and by the end of 2011 a weary Preston Campbell had hung up his boots. Crucially, ruck dictator Nathan Friend lasted just five games, speedster Kevin Gordon suited up just twice, and rep forward Anthony Laffranchi played only half a season. In all John Cartwright was forced to call on 33 players during the year, the equal most by any team. But the Titans’ woes extended beyond their ageing, worn-and-torn troops: they were the least-potent attacking side (fewest tries and points, fewest line-breaks) and conceded the most points and tries. Plus they bumbled their way to the most errors. Captain and halfback Scott Prince would be the first to put up his hand and admit guilt – but given some new drive in the forwards [see below] Prince should get a bunch more time to settle the plays, and a return to his best attacking magic is on the cards.
2. Mongrel up front
Stalwart Luke Bailey tried his hardest to lead the way last year (122 metres a game) but ‘Bull’ didn’t get a lot of support as the Titans’ pack struggled in clawing out the second-fewest metres each week. That will change in 2012 with the addition of hardheads Luke Douglas and Nate Myles. At his best Myles is a forceful runner and punishing defender (he averaged 34 tackles a game for the Roosters last year), while Douglas is a Trojan who played the second-most games by any prop (24) and averaged 107 metres a game for former club Cronulla. Throw in niggly, gritty back-rower Greg Bird and the Titans will field more ‘mongrel’ in 2012 than ever before.
3. Jamal Idris
Before the Titans signed Jamal Idris he’d played Origin for New South Wales (in Game One of 2010) and a month after he put pen to paper he played for the Kangaroos against the Kiwis. Thereafter the Idris juggernaut slowed; the giant was shunned by new Blues coach Ricky Stuart and critics targeted him for a perceived lack of focus for the full 80 minutes at club level. Still, he ranked fifth in the NRL for tackle-breaks alongside Bulldogs team-mate Ben Barba. There’s no doubt that when he’s switched on, 115-kilogram Idris is a colossus who can turn a game with his speed and strength on the fringe of the ruck, whether it be at centre or as a battering ram utility. To date in the NRL he’s made a home on the right edge of the field but with fellow right centre Beau Champion’s arrival from Melbourne, coach John Cartwright has revealed to NRL.com that he plans to deploy Idris on the left. Outside man Kevin Gordon will be licking his lips at the opportunities that will surely come his way.
4. David Mead
The Titans feel a need ... a need for Mead’s speed. The 23-year-old Papua New Guinea Test star was a revelation in 2012, setting the club record for tries scored in a season with 16 (fourth most in the comp). Mead was easily their most damaging attacking force, his blistering acceleration from a standing start helping him to a team-high 15 line-breaks. And his sensational pick-up and grounding to score against the Sharks in Round 22 was a breathtaking example of sublime rugby league skill. With Jamal Idris on board and Kevin Gordon’s return a lot of the expectation and burden will fall from Mead’s shoulders and we could see even more spectacular deeds.
5. After the cleanout
Like “the recession we had to have” in the ’90s, according to the then Federal Government treasurer Paul Keating, 2011 was the flagging season the Titans had to have. They played a tired, stale and flustered brand of footy. Their player unit was largely unchanged during their first five years in the NRL and new blood and key additions will see them enter a transition phase in 2012. They’ve placed their faith in 21-year-old Matt Srama as the successor to hooker Nathan Friend and the youngster showed poise and skill in his maiden year. Newbie Luke Douglas was named in the Emerging Blues squad earlier this month alongside versatile 20-year-old forward Ryan James, who appears destined for huge things. With Anthony Laffranchi moving on to the English Super League James will get his chance to shine when he makes his return from a serious knee injury in mid-April.