Ashley Taylor hits the big time, tinkering of Rabbitohs attack will take time, Ryan James's timely Origin audition and the one-on-one battles that made the Titans' 29-28 win so enthralling.
Taylor-made for the big time
Even as he was interviewed post-match by the coach of Queensland there was a calmness to Ashley Taylor that belied not only his match-winning moment that propelled his team into the top eight but his 12 NRL games and 20 years of experience on this earth. His try just before half-time was a display not only of pace but anticipation and his 40/20 five minutes into the second half with his team getting hammered in defence swung the momentum of the game in an instant. He came to the Titans in the off-season with an outstanding pedigree and seeking an opportunity but his adaptation to first grade has exceeded all expectations. When the moment came for the game to be won he was the guy who wanted it most and having delivered in the most spectacular fashion has given those around him an even greater sense of belief.
Titans hit halfway mark in the top eight
Never mind the odds of the Titans finishing the season in the top eight, before the season kicked off Gold Coast were the shortest-priced favourites to win the wooden spoon with bookmakers in the history of the NRL. They go into the second half of the season in eighth position and riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak having again proven their fighting qualities against more highly fancied opposition. You get no prizes for being in eighth place after 13 rounds but there has been nothing in their performances to suggest this team will fade away without a whimper through the winter months.
Rabbitohs attack a work in progress
As frustrating as the Rabbitohs' attack was to watch in the first half, the brilliance that they displayed in the second term indicates the mid-season positional tinkering is going to have some significant long-term benefits. Cody Walker is looking increasingly dangerous at fullback, captain Greg Inglis gets the opposition defensive line bent all out of shape with his presence in the front line and the use of Luke Keary off the bench gives their attack a nice change in dynamic when the defensive lines are tiring. Those switches could be blamed for the poor execution of the first 40 minutes that saw them trail 12-0 but they are also the reason they came within a whisker of pulling off the greatest comeback of the season to date. This loss will sting all the way back to Redfern but with similar defensive energy and an attack that will improve the Rabbitohs may yet have a big finish to the regular season ahead of them.
Ryan James now the complete forward
It's hard to know whether New South Wales coach Laurie Daley wants to alter the make-up of his team for Game Two too drastically but with Boyd Cordner out injured it was a timely performance from Titans prop Ryan James. More than the two tries he scored – his first double since Round 24, 2013 – James ran for 185 metres and made 49 tackles, a number of which were crucial tackles when the Rabbitohs were threatening to break through the middle of the field. His effort-on-effort plays are what coaches drool over and which Origin stars are made and his improved disciplinary record in 2016 eases fears he would give penalties away at crucial times. He runs with purpose, tackles aggressively and can play big minutes, just in case you were wondering Mr Daley. And his 119 points have made him the toast of NRL Fantasy coaches everywhere.
Absorbing nature of one-on-one battles
Rugby league is a team game that takes 17 contributors at the elite level but Sunday night's clash seemed to showcase as much as anything the absorbing nature of one-on-one contests. Rabbitohs lock Sam Burgess zeroed in on Titans interchange forward Agnatius Paasi whenever he lined up for a customary charge, Greg Inglis harassed Nathan Davis at every opportunity and Paul Carter completely forgot for 80 minutes that he and Greg Bird were good mates back when he was a Titan. Ashley Taylor and Adam Reynolds attempted to out-cool each other in the clutch moments and Ryan James threw himself at Thomas Burgess in a colossal coming together of the two biggest bodies on the park. As two teams went to war in the west, it was the individual battles across the park that made for such an enthralling contest.