Season review: Gold Coast Titans

Wins: 10
Losses: 14
Position: 11th
Home Record: 4 wins, 8 losses (=14th)
Away Record: 6 wins, 6 losses (7th)
  
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (twice – Rounds 10-13 [including bye] and Rounds 19-21)
Longest Losing Streak: 5 (Rounds 2-6)
Players Used: 28
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 3.2 per game (=12th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 3.5 per game (=9th)

Just two wins from their opening nine matches ensured the Titans never really got going in 2012. Sure, they battled on bravely and, at times, looked finals possibilities, but just four competition points from more than two months’ football proved terminal for the Gold Coast this season.

Coach John Cartwright’s new-look squad entered the year full of optimism. The club, at a crossroads in their NRL history, had been licking their wounds after a wooden-spoon finish in 2011, but the arrival of some of the biggest names in the competition, including Jamal Idris, Luke Douglas, Nate Myles as well as Beau Champion, had Titans fans excited and pondering a return to the finals. Those new players replaced several familiar faces – foundation players and club stalwarts – and the 2012 season was something of a ‘new era’ for league’s youngest franchise.

Try as they may, however, the devastating start to the season stalled their engine… and they couldn’t get it started again. There are signs of life for the years ahead though, following the emergence of several new faces and the continued growth of others, including Aidan Sezer, Matt Srama, Myles and Douglas (not to mention the arrival of big Dave Taylor).

The main positive for the Titans in 2012, however, wasn’t the emergence of those stars of the future – it was the new sense of energy the Titans brought to their game. After a 2011 season where all the Gold Coast brought to game day was a pop-gun attack and humiliatingly ineffective defence, this year the Titans rediscovered their resolve. Cartwright’s men finally found they could, in fact, battle the league’s toughest teams and quite often come out on top. Good things, it seems, are just around the corner.

Where They Excelled… The Titans’ second-phase play improved significantly in 2012, following the acquisition of several noted ball-players. Myles and Idris were introduced to a team that already included the likes of Greg Bird, and it had a positive flow-on effect to their ad-lib football. 

Gold Coast finished fourth in offloads in 2012 with 11.7 per game (the Bulldogs finished first) compared with 14th in 2011, a sign the team now has the attacking potential to be a threat in the years ahead… if their best providers are supported by off-the-ball runners. In a tough year for the Titans, it’s a positive to take into the off-season.

Where They Struggled… The Titans’ 2012 finals hopes were cruelled by an error rate that was the second worst in the league. Gold Coast committed an average of 11.1 per match (only the Roosters were worse with 11.2), crippling any chance they had to build momentum and pressure, and ultimately score points and win games of football. Will Zillman committed 30 errors in 2012, while Mark Minichiello racked up 19 and David Mead and Scott Prince 18 each. 

The Gold Coast also found it difficult to ‘stick’ to the opposition in tackles – their average missed tackle rate of 34.7 per match was the fifth worst in the league. (Not surprisingly, the Storm and Bulldogs topped the list with just 27 missed tackles per match.) 

Clearly errors and missed tackles are go-to areas for Cartwright to fix in the off-season.

Missing In Action… The Titans suffered some crucial injuries at various times in their 2012 campaign – setbacks that ensured the team would always struggle to overcome their poor start to the season. Unavailability of key personnel, especially Luke Bailey, Ashley Harrison and Greg Bird (who played just 17 matches each) as well as Beau Champion (just nine games) kept the Gold Coast’s on-field experience to a minimum in games when they needed it most. In particular Bailey’s mid-season injury significantly disrupted the Titans’ progress – his absence for a handful of matches after Round 13 halted the Titans’ winning streak, the team victorious in just one of their following four games without their inspirational prop. 

Turning Point… The Titans entered their Round 22 clash with the Rabbitohs in eighth place on 22 points alongside the Knights, Tigers and Dragons. Played at Skilled Park, the home side got off to a great start, scoring first before the Rabbitohs hit back. Then two pivotal decisions went against the Titans – Luke O’Dwyer was ruled to have interfered with a Souths defender before the Titans scored, then just a minute later the Rabbitohs scored off a bomb that appeared to be knocked forward by the bunnies. The Rabbitohs took a slender lead into the break, then on the back of an intercept and a slick backline play took a decisive lead. The Titans rallied to score twice in the final couple minutes, but the bird had flown. The damage had been done, both in this match and in their season. With three losses in the final four matches, the finals dream evaporated. 

Best Games… The shutout 18-0, Round 1 victory against the Cowboys in North Queensland will be a pleasant memory for Gold Coast fans, as will other away-from-home victories against the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Knights. 

In fact, the home side’s ‘away’ performances in 2012 were much better than their efforts on the Gold Coast. On the road the Titans won six from 12 matches, with an average four-point-better performance (19.58 points scored away, compared with 17.83 points scored at home, and 18.83 points conceded on the road, compared with 20.92 conceded at home).

Worst Games… There weren’t many ‘blow-outs’ – rather a collection of slightly below-par efforts coach Cartwright will rue. The Gold Coast’s worst performance occurred at home against the Storm in a 30-4 Round 3 shellacking, but other than that the majority of their losses were by 12 points or less. 

Perhaps those close losses (18-12 to the Roosters in Round 6; 15-14 to the Tigers in Round 9; 22-18 to the Rabbitohs in Round 22; 24-16 to the Storm in Round 23) will sting most. Had they won a couple of those matches, the Titans would’ve qualified for the finals.

Hold Your Head High… Individually, at least, several of the Titans squad performed well. New recruits Aidan Sezer, Luke Douglas and Nate Myles showed why they were sent north with consistent seasons. Sezer proved a competent five-eighth in his first year in the NRL, and the perfect foil for halfback Scott Prince, too. The former Bulldog didn’t miss a game after making his debut in Round 7, proving a player to watch with six line-breaks, six line-break assists and nine try assists. No doubt much of the Titans’ future plans will centre around him. 

Douglas, a former Cronulla Shark, toiled admirably, playing all 24 matches and averaging 105 metres per match. 

Nate Myles showed why Queensland selectors have valued him so highly for so long, with a great effort in his first year on the Gold Coast. In 2012, the burly prop ran for a career-best 2642 metres, cracking the line five times and scoring three times in the process. 

Halfback Prince also rekindled some of the form from his glory days – he again proved a more-than-capable playmaker, laying on 17 tries and creating 21 line-breaks.
Coach John Cartwright says: “It’s a tough one [explaining what went wrong]… the bottom line is we didn’t win enough tight games and those games that were there to be won,” Cartwright tells NRL.com. “When you talk about missing the semis by a couple of wins, that’s the difference…  it’s a fine line and you’ve got to win those games you’re expected to win.

“There’s no magic wand. It’s hard work. You’ve got to be aware of your shortcomings and improving on our year this year... there’s no one thing. There’s nothing I can tell you that’s a secret – it’s about getting the right guys on the paddock and keeping them there, as well as all those other little things.” 

Conclusion… Following a 2011 season where the Titans finished at the foot of the competition table, this year has been a demonstrable improvement. No doubt the burning frustration of close losses – defeats that proved the difference between making the top eight and missing the finals – still lingers with the players and coaches. With their strong roster, the experience gained from 2012 and with some new talent coming on board for next season, things should only get better.

*Statistics: NRL Stats