"If you're going through hell, keep going."
This Winston Churchill gem could become the mantra of the Titans in 2015 as they embark on the start of their season amidst all manner of controversy. The takeover by the NRL has given the club much-needed financial stability but five of their players will face court on drugs charges in the days before and after their Round 1 clash with the Wests Tigers at Cbus Super Stadium. It may get worse before it gets better but the reaction of the Gold Coast community could help to soften the blow.
Gains and losses
Gains: Lachlan Burr (Bulldogs), David Hala (Broncos), Josh Hoffman (Broncos), Kierran Moseley (Panthers), Eddy Pettybourne (Wigan), Matt Robinson (Panthers), Ryan Simpkins (Panthers).
Losses: Luke Bailey (retired), Maurice Blair (Hull KR), Paul Carter (released), Ashley Harrison (retired), Beau Henry (Dragons), Albert Kelly (Hull KR), Steve Michaels (Hull FC), Mark Minichiello (Hull FC), Cody Nelson (Eels), Brad Takairangi (Eels).
Almost 800 games of NRL experience left the Gold Coast over the off-season with the departures of long-serving veterans Luke Bailey, Mark Minichiello and Ashley Harrison and coach Neil Henry has indicated further changes will be made if deemed necessary. With the sacking of Paul Carter and the cloud now hanging over Beau Falloon's career the acquisition of Kierran Moseley from the Panthers is looking particularly astute while Broncos discards Josh Hoffman and David Hala head to the Gold Coast with plenty to prove.
What we know
Since the Titans upset the Bulldogs in Round 26 last season they have appointed Neil Henry as coach, sacked Paul Carter for a second drink driving offence, stripped Greg Bird of the co-captaincy, had two players face police charges and now have a further five charged for serious drugs charges. Like their opening round opponents of the past two seasons – the Sharks – the Titans will begin their 2015 campaign under enormous public pressure as we wait for the final ramifications to become known. They have added a class footballer in Josh Hoffman to their roster and picked up exciting prospects in Kierran Moseley and Lachlan Burr as well as the late addition of former Rabbitohs and Wests Tigers back-rower Eddy Pettybourne. If anything the club crises and personal challenges have allowed Nate Myles to emerge as a calm and respected senior figure and when he leads the team out as captain against the Wests Tigers he will have 16 loyal teammates at his back.
How the Titans players mentally handle the preparation for the start of a season when no one wants to talk to them about football won't be clear until perhaps a month into the competition. Young players won't be accustomed to being chased to their cars by a media throng as has happened in the past week and it will be a great test of Henry's coaching as to whether he can get them to sufficiently focus in time. There's also the not-so-little question of what kind of a squad Henry will have to pick from each week. With the five players reportedly set to defend all charges levelled against them, Henry could have a complete squad at his disposal in Round 2 or he could be looking at a depleted playing group for large chunks of the season.
With only a single NRL game to his name hooker Kierran Moseley is still considered a rookie for Dally M voting purposes and is in line to find himself in the starting 17 for Round 1. Even before Beau Falloon was caught up in the recent drugs controversy Moseley had shown enough throughout the pre-season to suggest he was a player Henry needed to find a place for. In their final trial against the Cowboys in Cairns the Titans looked most threatening when Moseley was darting out of dummy-half and looking for offloads from his ball-runners. Reigning under-20s player of the year Kane Elgey has looked comfortable in open company in the pre-season and Christian Hazard is another pressing for the utility spot on the Titans bench. There are a number of exciting kids waiting in the wings and early season form in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup will determine whether they get a crack at the NRL in 2015.
Room for improvement
Even when the Titans were leading the competition after six rounds last season all the statistics pointed to it being a falsely inflated ladder position, and the numbers soon caught up with them. In 2014 the Titans made the least number of line breaks, had the least number of try assists, missed the most number of tackles and made more errors than any other team in the competition. They may be starting from a low base but if Neil Henry can target some key areas then the only way is up for the Titans.
A clear focus of Henry's recruitment for 2015 has been to create greater competition in all positions and with some astute signings appears to have achieved that aim. There are no longer guarantees for perennial selections and even with five players unavailable for selection for Round 1 there will be a number of players left disappointed when the team is read out. The back row stocks are particularly full, there are plenty of front-rowers pushing for positions and there are a handful of wingers vying for two spots. Rest assured that Henry will pick the players in form and doing all the right things at training.
Aidan Sezer ($337,000) and Nate Myles ($328,000) are likely to be the Gold Coast's top Fantasy scorers this season, but they also boast a few good value pickups in the form of Daniel Mortimer ($248,000), Ryan James ($192,000), David Hala ($146,000) and Josh Hoffman ($268,000).
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It's perhaps not what Neil Henry achieves on the field in 2015 that will be as interesting as what he can deliver in terms of player recruitment for the 2016 season. Daly Cherry-Evans is the club's No.1 target but with a host of regular first-graders coming off contract and the financial security provided by the NRL, Gold Coast are expected to be one of the most active clubs in the player market over the next 12 months. Henry will have to do the best with what he's got this season but it could be a very different looking team by the time his contract runs out at the end of the 2017 season.
There has been a noticeable groundswell of community support in the wake of the Titans coming under the ownership of the NRL but that goodwill will only last as long as the team is competitive on the park. The Titans will be a gritty, hard-working team in 2015 that will rely on some flashes of individual brilliance to turn narrow losses into thrilling victories. Neil Henry set out to build a fitter, more resilient team in the off-season and with Nate Myles as their leader there is unlikely to be a lack of effort. But effort only takes you so far and the Titans' execution in attack will need to be near flawless to push their way up from the bottom rungs of the ladder. This is not a year when the Titans will win the premiership but one in which they give fans belief that there is a brighter future ahead. NRL.com prediction: 16th