Position after 13 rounds: 15th
Competition points: 8
Gold Coach mentor John Cartwright would be excused if he jumped from his chair in the coach’s box and shouted “stop the comp, I want to get off!” such is the annus horribilis the Titans are experiencing.
Semi-finalists in 2009 and preliminary finalists last year, an inexplicable freefall sees the Titans rooted at the bottom of the 2011 premiership ladder with the Raiders and Sharks at the season’s midpoint.
Poor attacking options and fundamental errors have cost them dearly. They have not been able to cover for the retirement of five-eighth Mat Rogers and have looked rudderless without the presence of hooker Nathan Friend who has missed eight games through injury.
They started with promise, giving the Dragons a run for their money in a 25-16 loss in Round 1, before back-to-back defeats to the Storm and Broncos hit hard. Their only win in the first five weeks was a golden-point decision over the struggling Raiders in Round 4, before a solid win over the Wests Tigers in Round 6 had fans hopeful of a resurgence. But with just the one win to their credit from their past six games, against lowly opponents the Roosters, it’s clear all that’s left to salvage from the wreck is some planning for 2012.
Are Things Going To Plan? There were doubts about the Titans’ ageing squad being able to maintain their competitiveness in 2011 but even the harshest critic would not have predicted this crisis.
In past seasons the Titans were known as a side that could bounce back from the wrong side of the scoreboard through patience and application. But this year errors have crippled them. They’ve made the most blunders (14.8) and have seen almost seven points a game shed from their stats from last year – they now register just 14.6 points a game (fewest in the NRL) and 2.6 tries (second fewest).
Injury Front… The Titans have drawn on 27 players to date, around the NRL average. Veteran Brad Meyers contributed just two games before chronic wrist problems saw him announce his retirement; speedy winger Kevin Gordon ruptured an ACL joint in Round 2 and won’t be back until next year; Anthony Laffranchi (ankle) has played just three games (but is due back this weekend) and hooker Nathan Friend has managed just four.
If Only… They could find some continuity in key positions and not keep chopping and changing.
Their real battle is to settle on a five-eighth and fullback – the acquisition of Luke Capewell from Souths (two games in the No.6, three in the No.1) proved a fizzer, while William Zillman has swapped between five-eighth (seven games) and fullback (four games). And they’ve been forced to abandon their plan to use Preston Campbell purely as a strike weapon, with the veteran starting in the No.1 four times. Most recently Greg Bird has filled in at pivot too.
Is it any surprise halfback Scott Prince’s form is down, given the lack of continuity outside him?
Also, they’ve had to call on five players in the hooking role, although lately Matt Srama (14 runs a game and 34 tackles) seems to have settled any debate about who will fill the role when Nathan Friend moves on in 2012.
Who’s Flying… ‘Flying’ isn’t the right word. State of Origin representatives Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison and prop Luke Bailey are the only players who can really hold their heads high.
Bird is averaging 14 runs for 122 metres with 20 tackles. He also has added 36 tackle busts and 15 offloads. (However, his 22 errors are the third most in the comp.)
Harrison is averaging 15 runs for 114 metres but has really toiled hard in defence with 43.8 tackles a game (fifth most in the comp).
Meanwhile 31-year-old Bailey has played the third-most minutes of all front-rowers, tallying the sixth-most average metres (129) and 32.7 tackles a game.
Needs To Lift… It’s tough to point the finger at Scott Prince but his individual stats are telling. Last year, with confidence in the players outside him, the Titans skipper finished the season ranked third for try assists with 15. At the halfway point of 2011 he has just four to rank 40th. His line-break assists are way down too, from 15 in total in 2010 to four to date.
But perhaps the biggest sign of the extra pressure he’s under comes in his kicking stats. Last year Prince was the master at booting deep and away from oppositions, with 108 long kicks and a 61 per cent rate of kicking to space. This year he’s tallied 49 clearing kicks with only 49 per cent finding space.
Coach John Cartwright tells NRL.com… “We started the year trying to be a better side defensively but we’ve fallen behind in that department. A major reason for that has been our ball control. We’re giving sides way too many chances to test us defensively. It’s been a year where we haven’t had a lot of continuity in key positions… it’s probably the most changes we’ve ever had to make. I feel in a side that’s been under-achieving Ryan James (nine hit-ups and 30 tackles in 30 minutes a game) has been one of the shining lights. He’s developing much quicker that we probably thought he would. [New hooker] Matty Srama too… they’ve been positive and confident. We need to focus on our ball completions and develop into a better defensive outfit. We’ve just got to get ourselves back into a bit of form. Rating out of 10? We’re way below a pass mark.”
Predicted Finish… If the Titans can upset the Dragons this week without their Origin stars it could give them a huge boost, as they then have winnable games against the similarly struggling Rabbitohs and Sharks before their second bye in Round 17. That would catapult them to 16 competition points – but they’d still need to win seven of their nine games thereafter to be in the mix for the semis. Unfortunately they simply haven’t shown enough to suggest they won’t finish in the bottom quarter of teams.
Under-20s… The junior Titans are doing it even tougher than their big brothers, with just two wins and a draw at the halfway point to sit in 15th place. And like the first grade squad they are struggling in attack, with just 187 points scored (the fewest) while their 390 points conceded are the fourth most. Hooker Matt Srama has been their best performer; he clearly leads the TC’s rakes for try assists (eight) and line-break assists (six), plus he’s felled the most players per game (33 tackles). Plus he’s added 125 metres a game. He played 10 games before he was called up to the first grade squad – great for John Cartwright but it now leaves TC coach Rod Patison without his key contributor and a real mountain to climb if they’re to avoid the wooden spoon.