Titans' 2014 Season Review

Three years after 'winning' the dreaded wooden spoon, Titans fans have a right to be asking: When will it start to get better?

When the Australian economy was in the depths of despair in the 1980s Prime Minister Paul Keating famously called it the "recession we had to have" and given the blood-letting that has occurred in the back-half of the 2014 season perhaps it is how this season will be recalled in years to come.

The euphoria of a stunning Round 26 win over the Bulldogs that led to Grand Final-like scenes in the dressing room after the game should not gloss over a season when Gold Coast got in plenty of games but lacked the stomach and polish to finish them off.

Defying statisticians and pundits alike with their 6-2 start that saw them hold the outright competition lead after six rounds, the Titans then endured a club record six-straight losses between Rounds 9 and 15. Only William Zillman's first career field goal in golden point extra time in Round 26 stopped them from stretching that mark in the final game of their season.

Foundation players Luke Bailey and Mark Minichiello were both told that their services were no longer required beyond 2014 while Ashley Harrison was forced into a premature retirement after suffering a neck injury just weeks after announcing this would be his 15th and final season.

But the greatest change at the Titans came at the very top with foundation coach John Cartwright stepping aside following the Round 22 loss to the Roosters and major shareholder Michael Searle standing down from the board and forfeiting his position as head of football at the conclusion of the season.

All this occurred as the club undertook an internal review conducted by an external consultant that they hope will give them a blueprint with which to build a successful organisation into the future.

After three weeks filling in in an interim capacity assistant coach Neil Henry was handed a three-year appointment as head coach but faces an almighty challenge to win back the faith of Gold Coast fans who saw their side win just three times on home soil all season, a record better than only the wooden-spoon Sharks.

On the field the promise of the opening two months evaporated under a weight of injuries that saw first-choice halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly play just eight games together all year.

Ryan James played four games before he succumbed to a shoulder injury, William Zillman and David Mead were both troubled by hamstring injuries while Greg Bird was kept to 17 games due to Origin commitments and suspensions.

They lost Jamal Idris to homesickness in the pre-season and acquired Brad Tighe from Penrith in his place while James Roberts and Daniel Mortimer both made positive contributions after making mid-season moves.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the coaching appointment for the past month there has been little movement on the recruitment front with Matt Robinson (Penrith) and Lachlan Burr (Canterbury) the only acquisitions to offset the loss of a trio of veterans along with back-rower Cody Nelson (Eels) and winger Steve Michaels (Hull).

It's harder to recall a season starting with such promise before unravelling so spectacularly and the only hope for footy fans on the Gold Coast is that what they have gone through this year represents short-term pain for long-term gain.

Where They Excelled: While things were going good for the Titans they made an uncanny knack of hanging in during games before snatching a late victory with a piece of individual brilliance. In Round 1 an Albert Kelly intercept try and a Will Zillman four-pointer nine minutes from time got them home against the Sharks while they managed to conjure miracle victories against the Storm (Round 5) and Broncos (Round 6) and a one-point win over the Cowboys in Round 4. And the Houdini effort against the Bulldogs to close the season had to be seen to be believed.

Coach John Cartwright gave his team a licence to offload and they responded with the second-most offloads in the competition with 301. While it created opportunities for the likes of Kelly, Mead and Roberts, it also contributed to a league-worst 304 errors, numbers their defence could no longer withstand as the season wore on.

Where They Struggled: As they climbed the ladder early in the season commentators continued to point to how they were defying statistics to do so but those poor numbers in key areas at both ends of the field soon caught up with them. Their 38 try assists were the fewest in the competition and led to just 64 tries all season (15th) while their 57 line breaks were a whopping 25 fewer than the next worst in the competition, the Sharks.
Defensively their numbers were just as bad with 882 missed tackles the most by any team all season, their 304 errors a league-worst and with 185 penalties conceded they were also the most ill-disciplined team of 2014. Given those numbers it is testimony to their scramble and fighting spirit that at 22.4 points conceded per game the Titans ranked 11th in the league.

With James Roberts and Dave Taylor at their disposal the Titans just need a consistent halves pairing in 2015 to be able to rectify many of their woeful attacking statistics.

Missing In Action: The loss of five-eighth Aidan Sezer from Round 10 through until Round 22 effectively stripped the Titans of any sense of direction through the most important period of the season. After rupturing his pectoral muscle against the Broncos while attempting to make a tackle, the absence of Sezer's kicking game – not to mention 90-plus per cent goal-kicking – made it nigh on impossible for the Titans to build any pressure or rescue a poor set with a good kick. Despite missing almost half the season Sezer was still responsible for 28 per cent of total kicks by Titans players and 29 per cent of all kick metres and forced far fewer goal-line drop-outs from the opposition.

Turning Point: On the back of a bye in Round 16 and a courageous win in Sydney over the Rabbitohs on a soggy Monday night, the Titans went into Round 18 knowing that a win at home over the Raiders would give them valuable momentum heading into the latter part of the season. The signs were promising when tries to James Roberts and Kalifa Faifai Loa gave them a 10-6 advantage through the first half hour but what followed over the next 50 minutes destroyed what little confidence may have been left. Anthony Milford tore the Titans to shreds with two tries, two try assists, eight tackle breaks and 185 running metres, the Raiders left 36-20 victors and coach John Cartwright was left to ponder the beginning of the end.

Best Games: Ironically the Titans' most complete performance came on a day that was supposed to be all about the Knights. The emotion surrounding Rise For Alex Round was supposed to inspire the home side but the Titans adopted a slightly altered preparation to avoid being caught up in the emotion of the day and the result was a commanding 22-8 victory in Round 19. The experiment of playing Dave Taylor in the centres worked wonders as he scored the Titans' second try and laid one on for Mark Minichiello while James Roberts set up the game's first try for Anthony Don and book-ended it with one of his own. For a week it reignited the Titans' finals aspirations and they even went as far as to simulate an away game preparation by going into camp prior to their meeting with the Eels at home a week later, a game they would lose 24-18.

Worst Games: Unfortunately there are a number to pick from, each one twisting the dagger of another missed finals campaign deeper into Titan hearts. The opening home game of the year in Round 2 was a meek capitulation against the Wests Tigers and there was little to like in the way they surrendered to the Raiders in Round 18 as their season slipped away. But in terms of deflating defeats it was hard to go past the back-to-back efforts against the Dragons and Warriors in Round 24 and Round 25 with interim coach Neil Henry in charge.
After their 34-6 loss to the Dragons Henry conceded their 15 errors and 46 missed tackles was not of first grade standard and then seven days later they created club history by failing to score a single point in their 42-0 loss to the Warriors. Yes, they were down on troops for both losses but the manner in which they went down pointed to a far deeper malaise.

Hold Your Head High: It's not how foundation Titans Luke Bailey and Mark Minichiello deserved to end their Gold Coast tenure but the poor on-field performances were by no means as a result of the efforts of the two war horses. No Titan played more games than 'Mini' in his final season in the NRL and in his 259th and final game he captained the team, scored a try and was named man of the match. Not a bad way to go out. It would have been fitting for Bailey to be there alongside his good mate against the Bulldogs but a potentially serious neck injury prevented him from taking the field in the final two games of his 15th and final season.

Conclusion: In a roller-coaster season that had a short climb before a terrifying fall to the bottom, the astonishing nature of their Round 26 win may just be enough to get fans through until 2015 with some hope.
They were without Myles, Bird, Harrison, Bailey, Kelly, James, Douglas and Tighe yet still knocked over one of the top eight teams in the comp in 2014. This is the start of a dramatic rebuild of the Titans and incoming coach Neil Henry has already shown he is not one to play favourites. Every player who takes the field in 2015 will earn their spot through hard work and adherence to a team-first ethos. Whether they have enough talent and depth to push for a finals spot may again come down to the casualty ward.

SEASON STATISTICS

Wins: 9
Losses: 15
Position: 14th
Home Record: 3 wins, 9 losses (15th)
Away Record: 6 wins, 6 losses (equal fourth)
Longest Winning Streak: 4 (Rounds 3-6)
Longest Losing Streak: 6 (Rounds 9-15, 20-25)
Players Used: 31
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 64 (15th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 92 (equal 10th)

*Stats: Champion Data