No more excuses, Gold Coast Titans must now succeed
Graham Annesley was incredibly optimistic when, having navigated five years of minefields and scandals the breadth of which no other club had endured in that time, he declared: "I think the club is well positioned to be one of the real forces in the competition in the years ahead.
"And I’m talking as early as next year on the field," he added at his resignation media conference on Monday. "The Titans will play in finals; they will win grand finals."
The NRL must have felt the same to have given the Titans life support for almost three years until longtime benefactor Darryl Kelly was joined by former chair Rebecca Frizelle, and their families, to take ownership of a club that critics from afar claimed should have been allowed to die a natural death.
Annesley, the former NRL deputy to David Gallop who is returning in a similar capacity beside Todd Greenberg, feels deeply the Gold Coast is a league heartland that not only deserves sustained success but is now in the position to provide it.
There is no doubt the Titans of October 2018 when he departs will have in place more attributes for ongoing success than the Titans of October 2013 when he arrived upon the invitation of former managing director and founder Michael Searle.
Certainly better governance, transparency and – words Annesley and the board have often used – facilities and player pathways.
Yet, for not just Titans fans but league followers all over, the time has come for the rhetoric about the club’s "new future" to be converted into one simple facet every club is judged on – on-field performance.
Despite all the developments, the areas upon which clubs are generally judged remain static – performance and popularity.
After all the hype that surrounded the Titans when Searle led them into the Telstra Premiership in 2007 and they had average crowds of 21,489 at Carrara, then the incredible achievement of making the finals in 2009-10, on the field the Titans have not moved forward in the past five years when it comes to results.
They finished 9th in 2013, 13th in 2014 and 2015, eighth only eliminated from the finals due to NRL-confessed refereeing shockers in 2016, 15th in '17 and a best-possible 12th this season.
Since 2010, the Titans are equal last when it comes to finals-seasons with just one appearance in eight years – equal with Wests Tigers and Parramatta.
Membership is still the smallest in the NRL at around 13,000 while home crowds have remained respectable at around the same number, better than nearly a third of the competition.
This is not to detract from the off-field progress made in tumultuous times but to state that – objectively – it’s now time for the proof to be in the pudding for all that hard work as the Titans enter, in 2019, into a defined new era.
They will have a new CEO in place of Annesley, a second-year coach in Garth Brennan, an experienced and highly respected executive chairman in Dennis Watt in his second season, as is the case with head of football Phil Moss.
Facilities at Parkwood are second to none in the NRL, their stadium at Robina is as good as any other, and they enjoy committed and resilient owners who are in for the long haul.
And next year’s roster compares to those from their finals seasons when Mat Rogers, Scott Prince, Luke Bailey, Preston Campbell, Anthony Laffranchi, Ashley Harrison, Greg Bird, Clinton Toopi and Brad Meyers were firing.
In 2019 they have three incumbent State of Origin players in Jarrod Wallace, Jai Arrow and Tyrone Peachey, a NSW squad member in Ryan James, an Australian representative in Shannon Boyd, Kiwi stalwart and ex-Storm premiership winner Kevin Proctor, a halfback earning near the million-dollar mark in Ash Taylor and one of the finds of 2018 in AJ Brimson.
The building blocks are in place. There is a place for the Gold Coast in the NRL despite what ill-informed detractors say.
It is the country’s sixth largest city, has over 6000 players in its catchment area to draw from and a first-class organisation.
And they deserve credit in having the fundamentals right after what they have had to endure: Kelly’s money saved them from bankruptcy before Searle walked with a hand behind his back in August 2014, with coach John Cartwright accompanying him, then the drugs scandal of 2015 that led to six players no longer at the club charged by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
After the financial disaster of a good idea turned bad transaction that was the Centre of Excellence, the Titans walked away from exorbitant rent as a tenant of the building it built and was a nomad for two seasons, training out of porta-cabins at The Southport School then the carpark of Burleigh Bears Leagues Club.
The NRL was forced to bail out the club in the wake of the drugs scandal, then came the infamous reneging of Daly Cherry-Evans who was replaced as a marquee signing by Jarryd Hayne in a move that proved an on-field failure. Add the acrimonious sacking of coach Neil Henry.
All the while Annesley bravely and forthrightly fronted heated media conference after conference, never seemingly flinching. It is an attribute that will be well served in his new NRL role.
Balancing that is the 10-year free lease of the facilities at the well-developed Parkwood golf course which is an outstanding deal. The dud stadium deal with Stadiums Queensland has been overcome and good local players who were once easy prey for rival NRL clubs have headed home, and new local talent developed.
Henry was at the forefront of that in enticing Wallace, Keegan Hipgrave, Proctor and Arrow while Brennan has followed in attracting Michael Gordon and Jai Whitbread and also fast-tracking the development of Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaika and Phil Sami.
"Off the field we are in as good a shape as we have ever been,” Annesley said.
"Financially we are sound, we have great corporate governance, great owners, an excellent playing roster that will be further strengthened next year. We have a new young coach who is determined to see the club succeed.
"We have done a lot of hard yards at the Titans and I think it’s time for someone to come in here with fresh ideas.
"The club is here, it’s strong and it has survived. It is going to thrive in the future and it is thriving right now.
"The club was in all sorts of difficulties when I got here. I came in with my eyes open. The situation was very dire, this club could have folded, and it was only the support of people around me made sure it didn’t happen.
"We will go as close as we ever have of breaking even after losses of $3 million-plus for several years."
It’s all good news.
However, Annesley won’t be the only one who will be watching expectantly from afar to see whether (or let’s hope when) all that has been put in place at the "new Titans" comes to the forecast fruition in the one place they will be most judged on – the competition ladder.