Titans forwards vow to defy doubters
They have been installed as short-price favourites to finish the 2016 Telstra Premiership season at the very bottom of the ladder but veteran Titans forward Zeb Taia says they have a forward pack capable of matching any in the NRL.
While much of the Titans' off-season has been centred around the loss of star centre James Roberts to the Broncos and the season-ending knee injury to halfback Kane Elgey, Gold Coast have assembled a forward pack full of experience and representative credentials.
Greg Bird and David Shillington have each played for Australia, Taia himself has played Test football for New Zealand, Eddy Pettybourne toured with the Kiwis in 2009, Luke Douglas played four Tests for Scotland in the 2013 World Cup and Chris McQueen has played four Origin matches for Queensland.
Ryan James and Nathan Friend have both played in the All Stars game and Taia believes that when the team is named for Round 1 that there will be a number of disappointed players who have been unable to force their way into the team.
"Everything is won in the middle and you look across the park and we've got a lot of experience," Taia told NRL.com.
"We've got Dave Shillington, Ryan James, Greg Bird and Chris McQueen; just looking at the forward pack there's no doubt that we should be up there competing with the top teams.
"You've got plenty of mobility with guys like Eddy Pettybourne and Agnatius Paasi and around that middle third of the field we've got guys with a lot of skill as well.
"There are going to be definitely a couple of guys missing out of the starting squad every week and being picked on the bench and that's a good thing to have in the team. It makes it tough for people competing for positions."
Taia himself is currently engaged in a battle with former premiership-winning Rabbitoh Chris McQueen for a spot on their favoured left edge, a fight the former Knights and Catalans back-rower appears to be winning at this stage.
The 31-year-old has returned to the NRL after three years with Catalans in the Super League and said he is developing a useful combination on the left with Ashley Taylor and Josh Hoffman.
"My No.1 preference is left but I can play both sides as well. At the moment I've been training on the left and [McQueen] has been training on the right so maybe we'll see how that pans out," said Taia.
"I know he can play left as well and he's done well playing left in his career so at the moment it's hard to know where Neil [Henry, Titans coach] wants us to play. I think that's how it is at the moment with him training right and I'm training left.
"This is the time now when you are going to have to set your goals of who you're going to be playing inside and outside of.
"At the moment I've been training with Josh Hoffman and Ash Taylor on my inside and outside so I'd like to think that will probably be the combination right there but we don't know yet so it's kind of hard to say."
As for their wooden-spoon favouritism with betting agencies, Taia admitted that it will provide extra motivation as the start of the 2016 season draws closer.
"I get motivated all the time by things like that," Taia said.
"They're probably writing us off already thinking we're going to be wooden-spooners but that's good for us. We can fly under the radar and not worry too much about what the media and that says.
"We can just worry about ourselves and worry about how we do things and hopefully we'll be good when we start ticking over the games and start winning games."