Home Record: 3 wins, 9 losses (16th)
Away Record: 3 wins, 9 losses (=10th)
Longest Winning Streak: 1
Longest Losing Streak: 6 (Rounds 15-21)
Players Used: 33 (equal most)
Player of the Year: Yet to be Announced
Tries Scored (After 26 rounds): 65 (equal fewest)
Tries Conceded (After 26 rounds): 109 (equal most)
Having spent the past four seasons building towards the top-four finish that they achieved in 2010, it seemed a fait accompli that the Gold Coast would again be there or thereabouts come finals time this season – but from day one it was clear that this wasn’t the same clinical Titans outfit of recent times.
With the retirement of five-eighth Mat Rogers and a season-ending shoulder injury to hooker Nathan Friend, the Warriors lacked the cohesion that has been the basis of their success over the past two years and, unfortunately, soon found that the only ‘prize’ they were fighting for in 2011 was the wooden spoon. Sadly, it’s a battle they ‘won’ on the last day of the regular season.
Truth be told, the Titans were unlucky to start the year 0-3 with a tough start that saw them face St George Illawarra, Melbourne and Brisbane in their first three games. In one of the game’s great anomalies, their stats after those three losses contradicted their lowly position on the table: the Gold Coast led the league for total runs, kick-return metres and times tackled in their opponents’ 20-metre zone and ranked second for metres gained with 1333 per game.
But failing to turn those performances into wins clearly sapped their confidence and despite a miracle win against Canberra in Round 4 they never found any sort of consistency. In fact, at no stage during the year did they manage to win two games on the trot.
Among the few highlights were a Round 6 win over Wests Tigers and a narrow 20-16 win over Cronulla in Round 22, when winger David Mead scored one of the most miraculous tries of all time as he scooped in a cross-field kick one-handed to score in the corner.
Injuries didn’t help. The Titans used a whopping 33 players in 2011 – only the Roosters and Knights used as many and no club used more – with Ashley Harrison, Anthony Laffranchi, Ryan James, Brad Meyers, Esi Tonga and Brad Meyers among those to miss close to half the season or more.
Yet their last-placed finish will rankle in the off-season – a final-round thrashing at the hands of fellow battlers Parramatta consigning the Gold Coast to a place in the history books they would rather not have.
Where They Excelled: There wasn’t a great deal for the Titans to smile about in 2011 although speedster David Mead did his best to inspire his team-mates. The young winger managed to score 16 tries – fourth most in the NRL – and ranked seventh for line-breaks with 15 … not a bad effort in a side that battled to score points all season.
Where They Struggled: Across the park. Without fail, the Titans’ attack and defence stats ranked among the worst in the NRL as they both struggled to score points and prevent points being scored against them. They ranked last in the Telstra Premiership for points scored, line-breaks, errors and points conceded and second last for tries scored, metres gained, tackle-breaks and points conceded.
Missing In Action: Injuries certainly hurt the Titans in 2011 but it was the absence of those in key playmaking roles which proved most telling. The retirement of five-eighth Mat Rogers last year was always going to make a difference but add to that a serious shoulder injury to hooker Nathan Friend – who played just four games all year – and the club was up against it almost from day one.
Coach John Cartwright tried a number of combinations throughout the year with little success and the burden on captain Scott Prince proved too much to cope with. Typical of the side’s luck, Mat Rogers came out of retirement mid-season to help the Titans out of a hole but lasted just 60 minutes before breaking his foot and being sent straight back to retirement.
Turning Point: Truth be told, the Titans did everything in their power to stay in touch with the top eight during the early rounds, recovering from their 0-3 start to go win-loss, win-loss over the course of six weeks between Rounds 4-9. The turning point came a week later when they put their all into a home clash with high flyers Manly, only to fall narrowly short with a 16-12 loss. It was a brutal game, with Sea Eagles five-eighth Kieran Foran coming off worst for wear after being repeatedly targeted by Gold Coast forward Sam Tagataese, but the lack of reward for their efforts seemed to break the side’s resolve and they won just one of their next nine games.
Best Games: The Titans produced a last-second miracle to score their first win of the season away to Canberra in Round 4. Trailing 22-16 with less than a minute on the clock – and with the Raiders in possession – the visitors were gifted one last opportunity when Canberra half Matt Orford inexplicably knocked on at the scrum base. In a dramatic final throw of the dice, the Gold Coast threw the ball left, kicked ahead, regathered from the rebound then put it quickly through the hands to the right before Greg Bird’s basketball pass over the top sent Anthony Laffranchi over for the leveller. Bird then added a field-goal in golden point to steal the most unlikely of wins.
Worst Games: A dreadful second-half performance against fellow strugglers Cronulla in Round 16 in a 36-12 loss was the tip of the iceberg for the Titans, who won just two more games all season from that point onwards. The sides were evenly matched during the opening stanza with two tries apiece but Sharks captain Paul Gallen showed greater determination than the Gold Coast defence after the break, with two powerful solo tries in the space of four minutes all but sealing the deal.
Despite their determined first half effort, the loss was typical of the Titans’ inability to string 80 minutes together in 2011.
Hold Your Head High: Prop Luke Bailey and back-rower Greg Bird were the only two forwards in the Gold Coast outfit to average more than 100 metres per game in 2011. Bird was particularly impressive and did his best to lift the side – aside from averaging 127 metres and 26 tackles he added four try assists, five line-break assists, 57 tackle-breaks and 25 offloads. Bailey averaged 123 metres and 33 tackles. Winger David Mead also tried hard and topped the club’s total metre counts with 2710 at 113 per game.
Coach John Cartwright says: “Deep down I think I know where our problems started and why we couldn’t correct, but the bottom line is we weren’t good enough,” he said. “We had umpteen chances to win close games and in previous years we’ve done that but this year we weren’t good enough in most areas of the game.
“It’s a combination of things. If you could put it down to just one thing it would be easy. A lot of players didn’t get an off-season [and] we were a different side to what we were last year on paper. The core of our team in Mat Rogers and Nathan Friend weren’t there so we had to come up with another half of that core.
“The loss of Brad Meyers [mid-season] and the fact that so many guys didn’t get a pre-season – all of those things come into play but like I said we got into a lot of games and had chances to win games but we didn’t convert them into victories.
“I have no problem with the commitment. That changing of the core was huge but we’re not making excuses. We had a squad of 30 players and those guys have to be ready when they get the chance.”
Conclusion: Time may tell us that 2011 signalled somewhat of a changing of the guard at the Gold Coast – they head into 2012 with Scott Prince the only remaining member in the key playmaking roles following the retirements of Mat Rogers and Preston Campbell, and Nathan Friend’s departure to the Warriors.
But for a club that had prided itself on consistency and a gradual climb up the ladder, their wooden spoon effort this season was a demoralising blow. Even withstanding the injury woes that inevitably played a key role in their demise, the Titans failed to grasp their opportunities and will feel that they seriously under-achieved in 2011. Time will tell whether they can recover as quickly as the Gold Coast fans demand.