Gold Coast's injury crisis in the halves has plummeted to new depths with halfback Beau Henry facing an extended period on the sidelines after injuring the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Monday night's loss to the Storm.
The 24-20 loss to Melbourne was the Titans' fifth from seven home games thus far in 2014 and drew the second-lowest crowd of the NRL season, the injury to Henry creating further headaches for coach John Cartwright ahead of Sunday's must-win clash with the Dragons.
Henry was a late inclusion against the Storm after Albert Kelly pulled out with continuing soreness in his left leg but lasted just eight minutes before his knee gave way as he moved across in the defensive line. He gamely tried to battle on but after making another tackle realised the seriousness of his injury and left the field, just three NRL games back after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last season.
With first-choice five-eighth Aidan Sezer not expected back before the finals with a pectoral injury and Kelly still doubtful of a return to face St George Illawarra on Sunday, Cartwright is short on options for a partner for Maurice Blair to oppose internationals Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall.
"If it is [a PCL injury] it's generally a six-week injury so it will be a mid to long-term thing if it is a PCL," Cartwright said of Henry's initial diagnosis.
"We hope to have [Kelly] right but again, he's going to have to get out on the training field and finish the sessions and if he does that he'll be right to go."
Having already been moved from fullback to the centres earlier in the year, William Zillman shapes as an option at halfback against the Dragons should Kelly be unavailable and conceded that the constant chopping and changing has stunted their attack.
"It can get tough, especially when you've got your six and your seven who are swapping over and we've had a little bit of that in the past month so it hasn't been easy for us," Zillman said.
"A bloke like Maurice Blair has had to come in a couple of times and has done a wonderful job for us so to have a back-up like him has been very fortunate and even tonight when we had Brad Takairangi in there I still thought our attack was really good. We stuck to our plan and probably our defence let us down a bit."
If the Dragons defeat the Titans by five or more points at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday they will pass them on the Telstra Premiership table and consign Gold Coast to 13th through 15 rounds, a far cry from their spot on the top of the table after six rounds.
"Confidence comes into it and forgetting how to win comes into it. I think that was probably an example tonight where the game was in our control and we didn't close it down and that all comes into it," Cartwright explained.
"We're not that far away points-wise but we've got a lot of work to do when we get through this Origin period. It looks like it's going to be a similar sort of end to the season as it was last year for us but no one's packing up shop here.
"The players are working very hard and it is very disappointing when you come so close to a victory when you really need it but it's a four-point game for us next week. Next week becomes very important after that loss."