Titans v Cowboys: Five key points

Kalyn Ponga lives up to the promise, Titans start slow again, Thurston and Taylor engage in compelling duel and Dale Copley makes good first impression.

Ponga's promise comes to fruition

He will turn 19 before he plays his fifth game in the NRL next Friday night but Kalyn Ponga went a long way to removing any doubt about his long-term prospects in the NRL with another polished performance against the Titans on Saturday night.

After a somewhat subdued debut at fullback last week against the Sea Eagles, Ponga looked all the world like the teenager who had left under-20s defenders grasping at thin air the past two seasons, laying on a try for Gideon Gela-Mosby, scoring one himself and looking a threat in open field with every touch.

Although there was the suggestion of an obstruction, he sliced through the Titans defence from within his own half and after following through after passing to Johnathan Thurston, had a possible try denied by the match officials. But he scored his first NRL try shortly thereafter courtesy of a perfectly-timed inside ball from Thurston that split the Titans defence wide open.

All told, Ponga had 112 running metres, three tackle breaks, two line breaks, a try assist and a try and solidified his place as a superstar of the future.

Titans fall behind early... again

From the moment an awkward kick-off from Kyle Feldt put them under pressure the Titans struggled to settle into the game, and it took 20 minutes, 20 per cent of possession and 10 points to the Cowboys before they began to turn it around.

Muhammad Ali may have become famous for employing the 'rope-a-dope' tactic against George Foreman in the 'Rumble in the Jungle' but by allowing the opposition to take the ascendancy in each of their four games to date the Titans are digging themselves into a hole that is just too difficult to climb out of.

In the first four games of the season they have trailed 28-0 (Roosters in Round 1), 12-0 (Knights, Round 2), 12-0 (Eels, Round 3) and 10-0 (Cowboys, Rd 4) and while they have fought back bravely to lead in all but one of those games the extra defensive workload ultimately takes its toll.

It's unclear whether they need an inspired speech or a rocket for the ages before they run out but they need to find a remedy fast.

Cowboys forwards respond to criticism

It was easy to point to the absence of Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo last week as the reason for the Cowboys' loss to the Sea Eagles but the North Queensland forwards made it clear that wouldn't be an excuse against the Titans, or for the rest of the season.

From the opening salvos the likes of Patrick Kaufusi and Scott Bolton bent the Titans' defensive line, Ethan Lowe looked dangerous with his late footwork at the line while young behemoth Coen Hess simply steamrolled his way through attempts at tackle to score two second half tries.

Bolton finished with the Taumalolo-like numbers of 192 metres from his 49 minutes of game-time while Lowe made 26 tackles and ran for 151 metres in the middle of the field.

It was a statement from the Cowboys' big men to those who say they cannot win the comp without Matt Scott and it was made in emphatic fashion. 

Thurston-Taylor battle compelling

With each game in the NRL he looks more and more like the heir apparent to Johnathan Thurston's Queensland No.7 jersey but the master was still able to show Ashley Taylor how it's done in a compelling duel on Saturday night.

Halves partners at the Indigenous All Stars a little more than a month ago, Thurston and Taylor went at each other all night and both enjoyed moments of success.

Taylor showed the respect that he holds Thurston in by handing back his kicking tee after a penalty goal in the first half but he also showed no qualms in sending back-rower Kevin Proctor at Thurston at every opportunity.

Like the champion that he is, Thurston cut down Proctor just short of the line on one occasion and jolted the ball free with a strong tackle on another to go with the try that he scored in the fourth minute and the one he laid on for Kalyn Ponga just prior to half-time.

He was penalised for attacking the legs of Taylor after the 22-year-old had put up a bomb and had high praise for his development as a young half.

"There's no doubt he's got a big future ahead of him," Thurston said.

"It's always going to be the way when you're coming up against an exciting talent like him, it was nice to get one over him but certainly they sent a fair bit of traffic down our way.

"There's obviously a lot of pressure on the young halves coming through now, how to manage games, how to close out games, how to get your team back into games as well. Each year he'll no doubt get better at that.

"They get thrust into the big time and they're still learning their footy."

 


Copley makes good first impression

There's never been any question that Dale Copley is of NRL standard and Titans coach Neil Henry conceded they need to find ways to get him more involved after a bright start to his career on the Gold Coast.

An error with his first carry was an inauspicious start for the former Broncos and Roosters centre but after his side were starved of possession in the opening quarter Copley got his team on the board and the crowd back in the game with a fine finish to open his Titans account in the 24th minute.

A second try in the 75th minute kept a small sliver of hope for a Titans win alive and his strong running throughout the game yielded six tackle breaks from just nine runs.

"I thought he looked sharp out there, we probably didn't get him enough ball," Henry said.

"We tried to get to the left side a little bit where we worried their right side but it was great for him.

"Not a lot of touches but what he did he did well so he'll be better for that."