GOLD COAST TITANS - 2009 Season Preview

WHAT price a relatively major injury to Scott Prince or Luke Bailey towards the end of the 2009 season?

One would hope there isn’t a market on the potential misery of two fantastic men and footballers but after two straight years where injury to key individuals cruelled the Titans’ title aspirations, there just might be some cynics eyeing off a way to make some extra coin.

As a relatively new club (this is only their third season) the Titans are still building their depth and simply cannot afford to lose big chunks out of their playing roster – again.

If they do, they’ll miss the finals – again – but if they finally get some luck, they are more than capable of giving the NRL a real shake-up.

How They’ll Play It

The Titans are adept at playing to their strengths. Big-game players like Prince, Bailey and Anthony Laffranchi know their roles and they play them to perfection each and every week.

Prince calls the shots, directing his pack through the middle and his backs through the gaps out wide. While everything comes from the scheming halfback, stopping or restricting his input is near impossible; the Clive Churchill Medal winner can pass short or long, kick high or low and can also slice through on his own, making it difficult to commit in defence.

Watch for the Titans to keep things up-tempo. Their forwards are smaller and will often change up direction around the ruck to ensure they aren’t dominated in attack. Then, off quick-play-the-balls, Prince can really go to town.

Keep An Eye On

The fight for wing berths. There are as many as eight or even more potential wingers that could all be great finishers in the Titans’ line-up.

Coach Cartwright could call on any or all of Jordan Atkins, Brenton Bowen, Shannon Walker, Esi Tonga, David Mead, Kevin Gordon, Ben Jeffery and Chris Walker, during the season to play out wide.

Atkins wowed fans as ‘Air Jordan’ last year, Shannon Walker has superstar potential if he stays focused, Bowen and Tonga have almost as much skill as their ultra-impressive relatives (Matt Bowen and Willie Tonga) while Mead was a real find on the wing for Papua New Guinea in last year’s World Cup.

And Chris Walker is a former Origin star – so if he can return to his best from major Achilles tendon problems, he too will be right in the mix.

They’ll Really Miss

The Titans’ losses will be felt in the depth department.

Players like Michael Hodgson, James Stosic, Luke Swain, Gavin Cooper, Kris Kahler and Josh Lewis were all of reasonable standard and without them it will fall to locals and juniors to fill the gaps if injuries do once again take up residence on the Gold Coast.

It’s Time To Stand Up

The time has come for Ian Donnelly to prove himself as a regular NRL forward. The big prop had a poor year last season and wasn’t seen in the top grade but with earlier stints at St George Illawarra, Manly and Melbourne all bearing some impressive games,he’s far from not up to it.

Time is also running out for Shannon Walker to stay in the ‘potential superstar’ group. As an incredible junior Walker was expected to be lighting up the NRL along with the likes of Israel Folau by now, but he has been unable to take his game to the next level.

The experience of last season has hopefully steeled the youngster.

Coach Watch

John Cartwright will be coach at the Titans for a while to come. Despite the fact the side has missed the finals in its opening two years, Cartwright is well respected by players and officials and was even in line for the vacant Australian job, such is his reputation as an assistant with the Kangaroos.

They’re All The Better For

The Titans have recruited only a handful of players. Just how well William Zillman and Sam Tagataese go on the tourist strip will make for interesting viewing.

Zillman is a potential superstar but there are question marks all over him. Will he be able to recapture his attacking brilliance after two major knee injuries?

And where will he fit into the Titans’ squad? Preston Campbell has the fullback jersey sewn up so will Zillman resurface as a centre, winger or even five-eighth option?

As for former Storm boy Tagataese, the interest comes in whether or not he can perform at his damaging best without the dominant Melbourne side in front of him.

Predicted Finish

Without major injuries the Titans could fight for a top-four berth. With them, however, they’ll be also rans.

Presuming it will be third year lucky we’ll slate them at around sixth to eighth position.

Under-20s

Last season the junior Titans scraped into the finals in eighth spot before falling to the eventual premiers Canberra and in 2009 they will have their sights even higher.

Led by teenage halfback Jordan Rankin the tiny Titans have the firepower and the desire.

New Breed

Kayne Lawton, a halfback-turned-hooker, was known more for looking good with his shirt off than for any football talents … but that’s not to say he doesn’t have any – just ask the locals and they’ll tell you he has plenty.

Keep an eye out for more on Kayne Lawton when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.