Titans target tackling as Cowboys loom large
The defensive work the Titans have undertaken over the past fortnight will receive the ultimate litmus test when they face up to the power of Cowboys pair Coen Hess and Jason Taumalolo on Saturday night.
Only a solitary point separates the Titans from the worst defensive record in the Telstra Premiership through 12 rounds and no matter how many points they score it's a statistic that must improve dramatically if they are to challenge in 2017.
The top six teams approaching the halfway mark have the six best records defensively whilst the Titans' ability to post points has elevated them only as high as 12th on the ladder with four wins. In seven of their 11 games the Titans have conceded 28 points or more and they spent the bye week examining both their attitude and also technique.
When the Titans and Cowboys last met North Queensland were without Taumalolo but got home on the back of two rampaging efforts from Hess down the Titans' left edge, an assignment that will be tasked to back-rower Joe Greenwood and Kane Elgey on Saturday.
When the teams met in Round 4 it was Chris McQueen playing on the Titans' left side and he had some simple advice this week for Greenwood.
"Just get your body in front. He's a big boy but don't give him space," McQueen warned.
"If you give him space and you try to close the space and he's already through the hole then it's too late.
"You just need to get your body in front and then the boys will help you and get into the tackle and help you out."
Breaking down aspects of the tackle over the past two weeks in order to improve their technique, McQueen said it must be accompanied by a good attitude or it will fail them every time.
"If you don't want to put your body in front and don't want to put your shoulder in then it doesn't matter how much you work on it. If you show up with the wrong attitude you're just not going to get the job done," he said.
"I'd hate to say that anyone's showing up with the wrong attitude but obviously we struggled against Manly and that probably plays its part.
"We addressed all that stuff in review. Our attitude, our energy and our willingness to get in wasn't good enough and I think we'll see an improvement this week."
Recognising it was an area that needed significant improvement, coach Neil Henry cut his players some slack due to the disrupted nature of their team all season.
If Nathan Peats plays – which is unlikely – the Titans will field the same 17 two weeks in a row for the first time all season, a factor which Henry says has contributed to their leaky defence, particularly on the edges.
"Our attitude against Manly wasn't good enough. We talked about that, but we really haven't had an opportunity to have settled edge defence anyway," Henry said.
"You need time to get your defensive structures right and to get that trust and confidence around how you defend but the bottom line is that you've got to make your tackles as well.
"[Hess] is a very strong carrier of the ball and I expect that Kane Elgey is going to get a workout on that side and it will be up to our left edge to really do their job.
"Joey Greenwood is playing some better football now, he's settled into the speed of the game over here and made some great improvements in his game.
"It will be a tough night but we just need to be able to solve what they throw at us."