Torture test that toughened Titans defence
It was a midnight torture test that almost tore the playing group apart but Titans players say the unusual practice of belting each other in the glare of car headlights has created a bond that could carry them to the finals.
Like Muhammad Ali instituting the famous 'rope-a-dope' technique against George Foreman in the 'Rumble in the Jungle', the Titans absorbed attack after attack against the Wests Tigers last weekend and in so doing kept their season alive.
It's been a common trait of a team laden with discards and hopeful youngsters who despite what many people expected of them in pre-season have continued to fight back and prove themselves as one of the Telstra Premiership's most resilient teams.
The Titans may have conceded the most points of any of the teams currently sitting in the top eight but they have displayed an ability to absorb pressure that has kept them in the majority of games until the very end.
This willingness to fight for each other was forged in trying conditions west of the Gold Coast at the Canungra Army Barracks where a three-day camp pushed them to their physical and mental limitations.
The theme throughout the camp was of helping your mates through tough times but on the second night the players were dragged out of their beds and told to tackle each other to the point where tempers overflowed.
"Everyone was frustrated, everyone was tired, and it probably boiled over a fair few times," explained Greg Bird.
"There were a fair few blow-ups with blokes not liking the way they were getting hit. Hopefully I won't have to do it again.
"I don't think we'd had any sleep – I know I hadn't. They gave us until 12.30am to sleep and then the cars were up at 2am beeping and waking us up.
"We had a cardio session in the gym that we had to run to in the dark and then on the way back at about 3.30 we ran into 'Bumper' (Brett O'Farrell), our tackle technique coach, and had to do a session in the scrub with 10 or 15 cars parked in a big circle with their headlights on.
"The grass was long, it wasn't a football field, and there was no thought behind the session. It was just get there, run as hard as you can, and bash each other.
"That wasn't much fun."
Entrusted with the leadership of one of the groups throughout the duration of the camp, Bird made it clear to those under his watch that quitting was never an option.
Each player was handed a white card at the start of the camp that they could use if they wanted to quit any of the activities, an option Bird soon took away from them.
"There was six of us and 'Birdy' was our captain," recalled Ashley Taylor, one of the many new faces who bonded during the camp.
"They gave us this white card at the start of the camp and they said if you wanted to give up to give this white card to the coaching staff and tell them that you don't want to be selected this year.
"Birdy took them all off us at the start and said that no one was going to be needing them."
Added Bird: "I don't know if the boys wanted to use them but they didn't really have an option."
Since that camp the Titans have added Chris McQueen, John Olive, Nathan Peats, Konrad Hurrell and Jarryd Hayne to the playing group but the core squad has moved forward united in a shared bond formed in the most trying of circumstances.
"I've been hammered from pillar to post when it comes to the training paddock and done tough sessions on the footy field but never in an Army camp environment. It is quite different," Bird explained.
"Looking back on it I wasn't really enjoying it at the time but I saw the benefits in it, especially considering we had so many new faces at our club.
"We had a lot of blokes that probably hadn't done too many pre-seasons before so to bash us up all together and see what everyone was made of when they're put under the flame, I thought it was beneficial to this group.
"The desire and the ability to work together for those long periods has been good for us this year.
"Last year we leaked way too many tries through the middle. It's an area that we've definitely improved and it's something that you have to have a real steely attitude towards, your defence in the middle, because that's probably 90 per cent of the football."