Mid-season Report Card
Position after 13 rounds: 3rd
Points diff: +18
Much is expected of the Gold Coast this season after two narrow misses since their debut in 2007 and, for the time being at least, it appears a maiden finals appearance could well be on the way.
The Titans sit level with St George Illawarra, the Bulldogs and Brisbane at the top of the NRL ladder at the halfway point of the season after shrugging off signs of a slump to down the Dragons 28-24 on Monday night.
They had previously sneaked home on the back of a controversial late penalty against Manly following consecutive losses to Newcastle and Brisbane but there is little doubt that the Gold Coast side of 2009 looks far healthier than those that crashed out of contention in 2007-08.
Once again they burst out of the blocks this season with impressive efforts over the Knights, Bulldogs, Storm, Cowboys and Raiders leaving them with five wins from their opening six games. The combination of halfback Scott Prince and fullback Preston Campbell has been damaging, while youngsters Kevin Gordon and Esi Tonga have impressed since taking the permanent step up to the top grade.
Titans fans have also been pleased to see controversial winger Chris Walker finally back in the top grade and scoring tries again after a two-year absence.
Are Things Going To Plan? Coach John Cartwright couldn’t have asked for much more than a top-four spot at the halfway mark of the season – even if he has seen his side fall out of contention after strong starts the past two seasons. The good news this time around is that his side is relatively fit and firing. Key to the Titans’ collapse in the past has been the loss of halfback Scott Prince but with he, Campbell and five-eighth Mat Rogers all fit the plan may finally be coming together in 2009.
Injury Front… Back-rower Mark Minichiello is the only concern at this stage and is expected back from knee and ankle problems within a fortnight. Prop Luke Bailey was cleared of a broken arm after being sent to hospital following Monday’s win over St George Illawarra.
If Only… The Gold Coast thought they had stolen a dramatic late win over Newcastle in Round 9 when William Zillman dived over to score with 93 seconds remaining, but video referee Sean Hampstead ruled no-try after deciding that Prince, who had played the ball back to Zillman in the first place, had impeded defenders. Newcastle led 23-18 at the time and held on for the win.
Who’s Flying… Fullback Preston Campbell has been a standout for the Titans this season – enough to prompt him to re-sign for another two years after being undecided at the start of the season. The highlight was his match-winning performance in a 20-12 win over the Bulldogs in Round 3 in which he set up one try and scored another in the absence of injured playmaker Scott Prince.
Needs To Lift… Halfback Scott Prince has hardly been out of form but he has certainly dropped off a fraction since his sizzling start to the season. The Titans will need him to be at his brilliant best if they are to challenge the big guns at the business end of the year.
John Cartwright Tells NRL.com… “I’m pretty happy at the moment although we’re only halfway there. It’s a pass mark at this stage. Our defence has improved on where we were at this time last year – our contact is a lot better and we’ve been able to hold sides out defending our line. I think we’re competing a lot better too for the full 80 minutes. The main thing for any side though is to stay fit and so far this year we’ve had limited injuries.”
Predicted Finish… The Titans will be aiming for a top-four finish although they haven’t reached the finals before and would settle for breaking their hoodoo. Realistically a top-six finish would be their minimum goal from here.
Under-20s… The Titans have used a whopping 34 players in Toyota Cup already this season with injury and school commitments hitting hard. They won their first five games but have since lost seven in a row to sit in 10th spot, although their fast start suggests there is plenty of talent at the club’s disposal in the future. The club has had three players – Jordan Rankin, Luke Page and Leon Taylor – named in the Queensland Under-18s squad and two – Ryan James and Dominic Walsh – in the NSW side for their upcoming clash in the curtain-raiser to Origin II.