Gold Coast Titans 2018 season review
As part of the NRL.com series reviewing each club's 2018 season, Neil Cadigan looks at the promising signs from the Titans in a year where they struggled for consistency.
The Titans are a team that finished the season in the category of 'showed what might be to come', as they underperformed on the ladder but unleashed some young talent that should put them among the finals contenders in 2019.
After winning three of their first five games, including a 26-14 win against derby rivals the Broncos, a side predicted to improve as the season progressed looked a possible finals hope.
Their season waned, despite taking premiership heavyweights down to the wire like Cronulla (lost 10-9), South Sydney (lost 18-16), Melbourne Storm (lost 28-14 and 10-8) and enjoying victories over Brisbane and the Warriors.
They could trouble any side but lacked consistency over 80 minutes let alone weeks or months; their home record stood at three wins and seven losses and they conceded more tries than all but Manly and Newcastle.
Jai Arrow, Mitch Rein and Michael Gordon proved excellent buys, skipper Ryan James was a reliable workhorse, Kevin Proctor was a rock on the right edge defensively but broke few tackles with the ball and, although he played all three Origin games for Queensland, Jarrod Wallace was good early but failed to produce the form of his first Titans season in 2017.
Halfback Ash Taylor began the season well but lost consistency and the ability to close out games as he had to handle the game-management by himself after Kane Elgey was dropped for defensive deficiencies after round seven (he was recalled for the last four games).
The good news was the development of five-eighth/fullback AJ Brimson in a brilliant rookie year, 18-year-prop Moeaki Fotuaika, intimidating forward Keegan Hipgrave, prop Max King until his injury in round 14 and winger Phillip Sami.
Jai Arrow was an early season revelation in his first season with the Titans. The quality in his high workload in the first half of the season was enormous although his form tapered as his body struggled with the demands of playing Origin and knocking out big minutes as a run-on player. Ryan James, who won his second Paul Broughton Medal as official player of the year, was not far behind.
Without doubt the 'what could have been' element for the Titans was the inability of big-name signing Bryce Cartwright to provide anywhere near the impact the Titans expected from him. He could have been the X-Factor the club has lacked, a forward who can ball-play and break the line out wide, but coach Garth Brennan desperately tried to find a role for him without reward – in the middle, on the edge (on the left after he had been a right-side player all his career) and even at five-eighth in the first 12 rounds. He went back to reserves and appeared only five times again, each time playing limited minutes off the bench.
The quote: Coach Garth Brennan on tearaway forward Keegan Hipgrave: "He's a little bit of a loose cannon. When you look at what he does away from the football field, he's studying to be a sky-diving instructor … when I think of anyone who jumps out of a perfectly good plane on a regular basis certainly has some issues."
Coming off a 46-point thrashing by the Dragons, the Titans' 26-14 victory over Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium in round four was an early-season statement by the Titans (that they could not live up to). They outplayed a near full-strength Broncos (who had Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn in the pack) in only their second victory at Suncorp against Big Brother, and their sixth in 24 games. Arrow was enormous against his old club, running for 160 metres from 17 hit-ups and making 39 tackles.
In round three the Titans let in nine tries and missed 42 tackles against the Dragons in Toowoomba, a place where they have worked hard to build a strong association. It's their worst memory of the year, ahead of the collapse against the Knights in Newcastle when they led 24-10 with 22 minutes remaining but stumbled to a 30-24 loss.
The Titans have added size in Shannon Boyd from Canberra and utility value in Penrith and NSW livewire Tyrone Peachey, as well as strengthening their backline depth with playmaker Tyrone Roberts to return from Warrington and centre/winger Kea Pere joining the club from Melbourne. Kane Elgey (Manly), Ryan Simpkins (retired), Tyronne Roberts-Davis (released), Tony Mata'utia (released) are the players on the way out.
The Titans should be one of the big improvers next season. The core of their squad is intact (not one regular player from 2018 will be lost) and they will have more attacking strike, which they need, with the acquisition of Peachey, Boyd and Roberts who will be the ally Ash Taylor needs if they can repeat their partnership of 2016 which was a major force in taking the Gold Coast to the finals. There is youth in the squad with several young players sure to have benefitted from this year's experience.