Titans v Dragons: Five key points
Dave Taylor continues to be an emiga to the very end, the Titans show character and positive signs for the future, while the Dragons are still looking for their killer edge just one week before the finals.
There may never be another Dave Taylor
In the space of 80 minutes Dave Taylor reminded everyone of his mercurial talents and also why no NRL club was prepared to take a risk on him from 2016 onwards. While his teammates warmed up their shoulders with defensive drills, Taylor practised his kick-offs which he did six of over the course of the game. There was the match-winning try, a grubber kick down a short side, a bullocking run for a try, a missed tackle that allowed Mike Cooper to score under the posts and a hit on Craig Garvey that buried the little Dragons hooker into the turf and brought the crowd to their feet. After his team had conceded an 89-metre try Taylor's kick-off landed a metre inside the dead-ball line to force a line drop-out as Channel Nine commentator Matthew Thompson described him as 'The Human Conundrum'. His influence was unquestionable but Titans coach Neil Henry lamented the fact that Taylor's extraordinary abilities were an expectation he could rarely live up to.
"His best is better than most people ever get to so you put a hard mark on him every time," Henry said. "How many guys do you expect to get out there and make 10 tackle breaks every game, four offloads and score a couple of tries? At his best he does that. He can kick a ball, he did the kick-offs, he's talented, so we put the bar very high for him.
"He hasn't been able to probably nail it consistently throughout his career but maybe he'll get to that stage. I think we unfairly judge him at times just because of how good he is.
"That's him at his damaging best and we know that he can do that and hopefully he is able to replicate that over there at Catalans."
Dragons refuse to look ahead to finals
It's been four years since they played finals football and only a miracle could quell their qualification now but St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor is adamant that any thought of a top eight finish is premature. As captain Ben Creagh dismissed the suggestion that ninth-placed Manly's loss to the Roosters on Friday night could have been behind the Dragons giving up an eight point half-time lead on Sunday, McGregor spoke strongly about what needed to happen before any consideration was given to breaking their finals drought.
"We're not in the finals, yet," McGregor said. "I think a lot of things came really easy during the game early and we put some points on the board but in all honesty, they had 20 offloads. 20 offloads in a game of footy for a good defensive side is way too many.
"You play a side that hasn't got much to play for, they've got a few players out, they play carefree, we play tight, a little bit of pressure built up on us knowing that we had to win to get into the eight.
"It's all things we can control. If we want to play tough footy, we want to work hard, we want to kick long, we want to chase hard, if we all work for each other we can solve it, it's that simple."
Character-building win for Titans
When Gareth Widdop pounced on a Titans error and raced 89 metres to put the Dragons four points ahead with 14 minutes to play, even ardent fans would have excused a Gold Coast defeat. They'd tried hard, were down on troops and had nothing left to play for; they may have been even forgiven had the Dragons given their for-and-against a little nudge in a northerly direction. But these young Titans who have learned the hard way what it takes to regularly win games in the NRL refused to accept mediocrity and got Dave Taylor close enough to the try-line for his massive frame to score the match-winner. It still took a Kane Elgey conversion from wide out to seal the deal but it showed that there is a spirit within a changing playing group to forge success in the future.
"We've got a lot of young guys coming through the team so the more experience they have the more their character's going to get tested," said Titans winger David Mead after scoring a double.
"It's been tested a lot of times this year and they've come through that well and by the time the year ends and get another pre-season [we can build on that].
"That game reminded me of the game against Bulldogs last year, except that was 18-0 at half-time. We definitely had the belief that we could come back and win but we just had to hang in there.
"We had a lot of injuries and the boys obviously showed a lot of character because we had one man on the bench and just had to hang in there for the full 80 minutes and we did that really well."
Dragons searching for killer instinct
It's the wrong time of the season to be dropping your guard and Dragons players know they must find a killer instinct if they hope to be more than simply window dressing in this year's finals series. A win against the Titans on Sunday would have secured the Dragons a first finals appearance in four years and at 20-12 at half-time the game was going according to script. But the visitors allowed the Titans to score the first two tries of the second half and even when they hit back to take the lead inside the final 15 minutes, couldn't find the final try needed to put the result to bed.
"Unfortunately the past two weeks have been pretty similar. When we have had that lead we haven't really put the foot down and put the foot on the throat to tell you the truth," lamented captain Ben Creagh. "We've gone back into a bit of a cruise control and it's something we haven't done before and it's something we've got to fix up because at this time of the year we need to be building pressure. We need to be getting leads and holding leads and scoring more points, kicking long, chasing hard and playing the tough footy. At times we're a bit guilty of not doing that at the moment, just hoping that teams will go away and it doesn't work like that at this level."
"We got off to a comfortable start quite easily and it kind of felt like we all just got a bit comfortable being in front," echoed Dragons back-rower Tyson Frizell. "We didn't really hold the foot on the throat and a team like that, they've got nothing to lose so they threw the ball around and we took the foot off the throat and they carved us up.
"We thought we were in a good place at half-time and we came out in the second half and they were just a lot more hungry for it than what we were."
Titans inch away from wooden spoon
What a difference two points on the scoreboard can make. Given the Wests Tigers' big win over the Warriors earlier in the day a Titans loss to the Dragons would have seen them assume the unwanted position at the foot of the Telstra Premiership ladder but instead they wake up on Monday morning in 12th spot and four points behind the eighth-placed Dragons. The winner of the Raiders-Panthers game on Monday night will leapfrog the Titans and assume 12th spot with the loser to join the Tigers and Knights on 20 competition points. Notwithstanding the salary cap breaches of the Storm and Bulldogs, only one team since 1980 has finished the season with the wooden spoon with 20 competition points (Newcastle in 2005) but that will come as cold comfort to whichever team ends the season in 16th position. Despite climbing to 22 competition points the Titans still could conceivably come last if – assuming the Panthers defeat the Raiders on Monday night – they lose to the Cowboys and the Tigers (v Dragons), Knights (v Panthers) and Raiders (v Eels) all have wins to round out the season.
"Whoever finishes last in the competition... It's close anyway. There's not a team that's won two games for the year and are on the bottom," said Titans coach Neil Henry. "It just shows you that there are games out there that when you get on a roll that there are games to win.
"Momentum is a huge thing in this game and it also proves that you need a healthy roster to get the wins consistently."