After six years, Queensland’s hunters have become the hunted. ‘Little brother’ the Gold Coast have become target no.1 north of the border now they’re the leading Sunshine State team – and co-captain Nate Myles knows it.
The giant prop and his teammates are ready for an onslaught in the local Queensland derby when the Titans meet the Broncos, who pushed Melbourne to their limits last week, in the blockbuster at Skilled Park on Friday night.
“I’ve been in a couple of them now and they’re the best games and the most fun to be a part of when the crowd gets behind you,” Myles, named the world’s best second-rower by the Rugby League International Federation last year, tells NRL.com.
“I’m really enjoying the M1 rivalry if you call it that, and we’re going to have to play good to beat these guys. There’s no getting around it. They’re not far off putting in a terrific performance and the second half of last week was a clear indication of that.”
After half-a-dozen years of NRL assimilation, the Titans want to be regarded as Queensland’s top team and claim their first NRL title, too. They currently sit above their banana-bending neighbours in fourth position, with the Broncos in ninth position and the Cowboys in 14th. The Gold Coast know, though, they’ll need to improve if they’re to consolidate their spot in the top eight, extend their winning run to four matches and entertain any thought of finals football.
Last week they defeated the Panthers in Sydney – although they were well below their best in a range of categories in the 18-point victory.
“We want to keep winning but more importantly we want to keep on improving,” admits Myles, whose side conceded 144 metres more than they gained against Penrith.
“I think last week was a bit of a step back in terms of where we want to be. We want to be known for our defence and it wasn’t up to speed on the weekend.”
Their opponents this week, the Broncos – the Goliath of Queensland rugby league and a six-time premiership-winning club – have started the season poorly with just one win from four matches. They’re desperate to rectify their 2013 record and get bragging rights over their down-state rivals – particularly five-eighth Scott Prince who was let go by the Titans at the end of last season. The former Queensland and Australian halfback’s battle with his former club adds extra spice to an already tasty rugby league Friday night feast.
Broncos coach Anthony Griffin, though, stressed Prince’s personal vendetta was not something his team would dwell on in the lead up to kick-off.
“It’s a big occasion for [Prince] to just keep building in our team no matter who we’re playing,” Griffin said. “Obviously there’ll be some fanfare with him going back to the Titans, but over the last few weeks he’s been building into our team and it gives him another opportunity to do that tomorrow night.
“Everyone will want to make out that he’s the big story going back to the Titans but it’s a game of football and he’s just got to play his role for us.
“I just want him to play his role and get his job done. If he’s got something extra there... well, that’s up to him.”
Griffin says his star recruit – who shifted to the Broncos after being offered a two-year deal – will be ready for the challenge the Gold Coast’s forward pack sends his way. He’s not worried about his playmaker’s defence against the likes of rampaging forwards Myles and representative teammates Greg Bird, Ashley Harrison and David Taylor, to name just a few.
“Every [halfback or five-eighth] is going to cop some heat in the modern game – it’s been like that for years now,” Griffin says.
“Whether he’s facing the Titans, the Roosters or the Storm, he’s going to have to deal with people running at him so that’s not a surprise to us just because we’re playing the Titans.”
The Broncos’ coach, who has led his team to the Preliminary Finals and the Quarter Finals in his first two years at the helm of the club, says the Titans present a huge challenge for his team.
“They’re going terrific,” Griffin observes. “They’ve blown some teams off the park with their attack, and their defence is very sound too. They’re not letting many points in and they don’t have too many injuries – they’re at full strength – and they’re a big side. They’re one of the form sides of the competition at the moment.”
Titans coach John Cartwright isn’t worried about his team being overexcited about greeting their former captain on the field – and giving him a taste of life playing against the Gold Coast.
“They play against ex-players all the time – it’s not a big deal now, when 20 years ago it was major deal,” Cartwright says.
“We’re not focusing on that at all. It’s about us doing our jobs right as we’ve done in the first four weeks of the competition – if we move away from that and worry about that our performances are going to suffer.”
Lock Harrison paid credit to his new playmaker Albert Kelly – who slotted into the position Prince left vacant – who has done an exceptional job since taking over at the start of the season.
“Albie’s been great,” Harrison said of his journeyman halfback who’s also had stints at the Knights and Eels but only played NRL at Cronulla.
“He’s a class act and he’s done all the right stuff for us this year. His head’s in the right place and if he can continue that and keep working hard he’s going to be great for us this year.”