Titans Mid-Season Review
The unanimous choice as wooden spoon favourites before a ball was kicked, the Titans have endured more off-field turmoil than any other team in the competition yet still remain within tantalising reach of the top eight.
The Round 13 tension-infused win over the Wests Tigers put the Titans back to within one win of the eight but have two crucial home games coming up against the Bulldogs and Warriors before their second bye.
Their start to 2015 was thrown into turmoil when five players became embroiled in a drugs investigation, they went through a change of ownership when the NRL bailed the club out of financial difficulties and then they were the unwitting pawns in the ongoing Daly Cherry-Evans contract saga.
Twice they have lost games at home to a field goal (one in extra time, the other in the 80th minute) and thus could very well have found themselves in the eight at the halfway mark.
The run home: The next fortnight may tell us all we need to know about the Titans. Home games against the Bulldogs and Warriors represent challenging assignments but ones they must win to be considered genuine finals contenders. They play the Bulldogs twice in the second half of the season and must also face finals-bound teams such as the Broncos (Round 20), Cowboys (Round 26), Roosters (Round 16), Storm (Round 22) and Dragons (Round 25). Interestingly, their away record at the halfway point of the season stands at an impressive 4-2.
Game to remember: The second half display against the Eels in Round 6 broke attacking shackles that had been placed on the Titans for the past few years. Trailing 16-12 at half-time, the Titans cut loose with five second-half tries to win 38-16, the first time they had posted that many points since Round 11, 2013 (also against the Eels). They scored more than 30 points in three successive weeks for the first time in the club's history as the influence of rookie half Kane Elgey brought the team a new dimension.
The one that got away: It's impossible not to mention both one-point losses at home that the Titans had every opportunity to claim for themselves. Having been mired in controversy all off-season, the Titans scored first against the Tigers in Round 1 through James Roberts in the fifth minute and then drew level in the 69th minute when he scored his second. They had all the running until an error by Nate Myles just inside Tigers territory gifted the visitors their chance to set Pat Richards up for an 80th-minute field goal that won the game 19-18. Then in Round 10 against the Sharks they conceded a late try to Jack Bird and produced the worse set possible in golden point for Valentine Holmes to break their hearts 23-22.
MVP: James Roberts is receiving many of the plaudits – and deservedly so – for the Titans' potency in attack but it has been the emergence of Ryan James that has brought an aggressive edge Gold Coast have been lacking. Plagued by injury since making his NRL debut in 2010, James was shifted to the left edge by coach Neil Henry this year and quickly became the team's go-to man. He is averaging more than 100 metres and 30 tackles per game and his four tries are the most he has ever scored in a single season. He is the most penalised player in the NRL but his positive contributions far outweigh that lone negative.
Stats that matter: It is perhaps the most boring stat in the game but that doesn't mean it isn't the most important and the Titans' worst completion rate in the NRL is a big reason they have dropped so many tight games. Aidan Sezer ranks highly in both line-break and try assists and James Roberts and Anthony Don both sit near the top of the try-scoring tally with 11 apiece.
Fantasy stud: Aiden Sezer has been the best Titan in NRL Fantasy with a respectable 46.9 average playing in the halves. Forward trio Luke Douglas, Nate Myles and Ryan James have all been consistent averaging 41. While Kierran Moseley (92k) and Kane Elgey (118k) have made the most money for smart coaches with an eye for cash cows.
Injury report: Injuries and suspensions – both club and NRL imposed – have made it difficult for coach Neil Henry to get his best team on the park with any consistency. Regular first-graders Greg Bird, Dave Taylor and Beau Falloon all missed the first two games of the season with Bird currently serving an eight-match ban for a lifting tackle in the Test against the Kiwis. First-choice hooker Falloon has played just four games as a result of suspensions and injuries while the ankle injury to Kane Elgey against the Tigers threatens to disrupt their continuity once again.
Predicted finish: The next fortnight is critical to the Titans chances. If they can find a way to knock off both the Bulldogs and Warriors at home they will come out of their Round 17 bye on 18 points and needing to win at least five of their last nine games. They'll be disappointed not to play finals football for a fifth straight season but given what they have been through a 9th or 10th-place finish may be respectable just the same.