Meninga's mandate: How Mal will fix the Titans

Rugby league legend Mal Meninga has been given autonomy to conduct a comprehensive review of the Titans football department in a move club hierarchy hope will re-establish the Gold Coast club's identity.

With two wins from the opening 10 games of the 2019 Telstra Premiership the Titans' worst start to a season in club history has intensified the pressure on coach Garth Brennan but the club's board of directors have recognised that the issues run much deeper.

A history of highly paid players under-performing when they join the club on top of worrying fade-outs in games this season have led fans to question whether players genuinely care, an indication of the underlying issues the Meninga-led review will seek to address.

Hailed as a masterstroke when he joined the club as the head of performance and culture last November, the recent departure of head of football Phil Moss to take up a position as general manager of football at the Sharks has paved the way for Meninga to take a more active role in the football operations, from pathways through to roster management.

"The Board believes that on-field performances from the Titans over the first 10 rounds of the NRL premiership have not met the club's standards for success, nor the expectations of our members, supporters and corporate partners," the Titans said in a release issued on Thursday afternoon.

"Therefore, the Board decided that a holistic review of our football operations was required to ensure the team and its supporters are being given the best chance to savour success in the NRL premiership."

While Brennan's performance as head coach will form part of the review, there are no performance clauses in a contract that runs through until the end of the 2020 season, meaning the club would be forced into a payout if they were to part ways prematurely.

On the back of two wins against the Panthers and Knights the Titans have lost four games on the trot heading into Friday's clash with Manly, leading the Wests Tigers 14-0, the Sharks 18-10 and the Bulldogs 16-0 before submitting meekly in the second half of each game.

Of the issues Meninga will be asked to investigate, these are the three requiring most attention:

On-field leadership

Quite simply, the Titans have none. They lack the talisman that holds other players to account and who can discipline the playing group from within.

In a move designed to improve the club's image, club bosses jettisoned just such a player in Greg Bird at the end of the 2016 season and left themselves with a playing group devoid of a clear hierarchy.

Injured captain Ryan James is a highly-respected man in the Gold Coast community but is almost too nice to pull players into line; Nathan Peats both sets the standard on the training park and holds other players to account but is not an inspirational leader in the mold of a Sam Burgess, Boyd Cordner or Jake Trbojevic.

There is a worrying lack of resilience in the current squad which comes down to a lack of leadership, something prominent figures within the club all acknowledge.

Roster management

The release of the contract lengths of all players on NRL.com last week highlights what those within the club already know; overtaking a dramatic roster overhaul at the Titans will be a lengthy process.

Little salary cap space will be freed up at the end of the 2019 season and while the club has room for two more players on this year's 30-man roster – spots that will have to be filled by June 30 – they don't have the money to chase elite-level players.

Brennan spoke of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak's qualities as both a player and a person on Thursday but the club is in no position to vie for the Kiwi captain's services despite the fact he has been given permission by Penrith to look elsewhere.

Currently languishing in the Intrust Super Cup, Leilani Latu is chewing up cap space until the end of next season which is when the likes of James, Peats, Jai Arrow, Kevin Proctor, Tyrone Roberts, Anthony Don and AJ Brimson also come off contract.

Bryce Cartwright, Ash Taylor, Tyrone Peachey, Moeaki Fotuaika and Mitch Rein are all contracted until the end of the 2021 season.

While some of these recruitment decisions have happened on Brennan's watch many others have not, which will leave Meninga with the task of determining whether to play the long game and recruit from within or begin the search for a coach who can extract better results from the players already on the books.

Pathways

If Meninga wants to hit the reset button and establish the Titans as a genuine Gold Coast club he can do so knowing there is an armada of young talent on the horizon.

The Tweed Seagulls earned the title as the under-18s national champions two weeks ago with a 48-14 demolition of Illawarra, the majority of the team already signed to development contracts with the Titans.

An hour before the Titans announced the review of the football department on Thursday, four members of the Northern Rivers Titans under-16s were named in the NSWRL Under-16s team to play an Under-16s Pasifika team on June 9.

In the current squad the likes of Arrow, James, Jarrod Wallace, Keegan Hipgrave, Brian Kelly, Tyrone Roberts, AJ Brimson, Jesse Arthars and Jai Whitbread have strong connections to the region and could form the nucleus of the side moving forward.

Titans fans are crying out for a team that they can get behind and call their own; a strong-handed review by Meninga with a clear direction of what the football team will stand for in the future shapes as the tonic that can finally cleanse the Coast of the malaise that has plagued them for more than 30 years.