Proctor key to Titans' dramatic defensive shift
For the first 15 rounds of the 2017 Telstra Premiership the Titans were the worst defensive team in the competition but in the space of a month they have transformed dramatically to be one of the best and much of the credit is being given to the influence of Kevin Proctor.
The former Storm forward was recruited to the club to bring a defensive edge that the club had been lacking but his late start to pre-season, subsequent knee injury and four-game mid-season suspension has resulted in a disrupted first 11 games on the Gold Coast.
For the first 14 games of the season the Titans were leaking points at a rate of 27.3 per game but in their past three games – wins over the Wests Tigers, Dragons and Sharks – they have conceded a total of 34 points at 11.3 per game.
A study of the past three games played by all 16 NRL teams shows that the Titans sit second behind Parramatta (28) for points conceded while top four teams such as the Broncos (84), Roosters (80) and Sharks (77) have struggled to hold teams at bay with teams hit hard by Origin representation.
With their season hanging by a thread assistant coach Craig Hodges delivered the Titans players some "home truths" about what would be required to turn their defensive performances around and he said Proctor has played a big part in its implementation.
"One of the great strengths of Kev is that he has come out of a system that really does value that and does a lot of those little things right and is genuinely committed to it," Hodges told NRL.com of Proctor's defensive mindset.
"He understands it, he's lived it and breathed it so he would be the main driver because he knows it works.
"He's had success individually and as a group on the back of it but he came [to the club] late because he was playing for New Zealand and then he got a knee injury in his second session so he didn't actually train with us until the week of Round 1.
"So one of the main drivers behind that kind of stuff who understands how much it works and the system we were trying to implement was off the field.
"It's no coincidence that your performance improves when you've got your better players training and playing. They pull everything up to a higher standard and Kevvie is certainly one of them, especially on the defensive side of things.
"They're getting an appetite for what it takes. Defence isn't something that you can just do the bare minimum and think you're going to have some success.
"Defence requires a genuine commitment from everybody. It requires a serious commitment and we're starting to see that."
Proctor spent nine seasons in a Storm system that placed a premium on training with the same attitude and application that is expected in a game and told NRL.com that he is seeing that same dedication in recent Titans training sessions.
"The attitude at training over the last month, all the boys are putting in the extras after training and everyone wants to work on our defence because our defence has probably been letting us down this year," Proctor said.
"Everyone's attitude over the last month has been really good. Everyone has been working on their extras, working on their wrestle, working on their head in tight and that's what we need to do to improve our game.
"Since our first win against the Tigers every week we've been improving slowly and we improved again [against the Sharks].
"Hopefully again next week we just keep going up and up and trying to push each other at training and work on those little things."
Currently two points behind the ninth-placed Panthers and sitting in 12th position, Titans captain Ryan James knows that his side can't even consider playing finals football until they can consistently prove to be one of the best defensive teams in the competition.
"'Hodgo' told us some home truths and we started doing a lot more of it at training and we needed to because the top eight sides are the ones that defend the best," James said of their increased defensive focus.
"We beat Melbourne in Brisbane but it was just because we outscored them whereas we beat the Sharks by defending really well.
"Once we start defending pretty consistently you can start pushing for that top eight but if your defence isn't in key then you're no hope really."