Gold Coast Titans – 2014 NRL Preview

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Rugby league writer Daniel Boss reaches the half way point of his 16-part preview of the NRL season, this time analysing the chances of the Gold Coast Titans. In his last article, he tipped the Panthers to make the top 8. Will he pick another side who missed last year’s finals to make the top 8? Read on to find out.

2013 Review

The Titans were another team that did better than I expected last season. This is partly due to the fact that they look to have solved their problem at halfback (barring a setback which will be discussed later), with Albert Kelly making the most of a great opportunity. For most of the season, the Titans looked to be a great chance of making the top 8 but losing 5 out of 6 games from rounds 14 to 20 was too much to overcome. Their form over the last two rounds of the season, which included a win over the eventual premiers, will be something to build on going into 2014.

One area that the Titans would like to maintain their 2013 form in is their attack. In 2013, they scored more than 1.5 points per game than they did in the previous season. Their 2013 attack was just above the season average in terms of points scored per game. However, the Titans’ defence was statistically weaker in 2013 than it was in 2012. Last season, they conceded around a point more per game than the average points conceded per game across the league. In 2012, the Titans conceded more than half a point less than the season average per game. The club is banking on an improvement from the players that they retained as they have had little player movement in the off season.

Outside Backs

The back three of the Titans is one of the sheer fastest in the league. With flyers Wiliam Zillman, Kevin Gordon and David Mead at the back, opposition kickers need to be very careful where they place the ball. The Gold Coast also possess a bit of depth at fullback and wing, with Anthony Don, Steve Michaels and new signing Kalifa Faifai Loa able to fill in if they are required. In the centres, the Titans have taken a massive blow with the departure of Jamal Idris. Now, I am of the opinion that the centres is the biggest weakness for the club. Idris was in career best form last season and it is no coincidence that the Titans’ season fell apart when he went down with a broken leg in Newcastle. The Titans have added Maurice Blair (pending the outcome of multiple police coaches) and Brad Tighe, which will add to their depth in the centres. However, these signings don’t offset the loss of Idris. In addition to Blair and Tighe, the Titans have last year’s starter Brad Takairangi, Anthony Don, Jamie Dowling and Michaels as options in the centres. I wouldn’t be surprised if Faifai Loa gets a chance in the centres, as he impressed in limited opportunities during his time at the Cowboys.

Halves

As mentioned above, Albert Kelly secured the halfback position for the Titans last season. However, a big concern is a vein condition that may force Kelly into career-threatening surgery. If Kelly is out for the Titans, then their hopes of making the finals in 2014 would take a massive hit. The same can be said if anything happens to five-eight Aidan Sezer. Since making the number 6 his own in early 2012, the Titans have gone from easy beats to a solid football team. Sezer’s left footed kicking game is his biggest strength. In terms of depth, the Titans do have Beau Henry and William Zillman as cover for the two starters.

Front Row

In recent seasons, the Titans have switched their focus as the main strength of the side is now in the forwards, as previously it was in the backline. In the front row, the Titans are strong with the evergreen Luke Bailey and the ever reliable Luke Douglas the likely starting props, while the clever Matt Srama should again be the starter at hooker. In terms of depth, the Gold Coast have Ryan James and Mark Ioane at prop, while Nate Myles and Dave Taylor can also play at prop even though they are more likely to be used in the back row. As a result, they can cover an injury or two at prop. At hooker, the Titans have Beau Falloon and Sam Irwin to cover if anything happens to Srama, even though it would be a downgrade.

Back Row

This is the real strength of the Gold Coast side, as the likely starting back row is the all-representative combination of Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Ashley Harrison. Bird is probably the best attacking back rower in the league and is also a brutal defender, while Myles’ strengths are his ball running and cover defence. Harrison complements these two by being the workhorse of the forward pack; however his best days are behind him. The Titans have plenty of depth in the back row, with Mark Minichiello and Dave Taylor likely to be used as impact players when the starting back row tire or if Myles is used in the front row. Outside of those players, there are no recognised back rowers, so it will be interesting to see how the young Titans back rowers can make up for the likely absences of at least Bird and Myles.

Bench

Last season, the Titans predominantly used a bench which comprised of a hooker and three other forwards. The reason for this was to take advantage of their main strength, which is their forward pack. As the club has a similar squad this season, I can see them using the same bench composition. With players such as Ryan James and Dave Taylor likely to be starting on the bench, the Titans have one of the best benches in the NRL.

Coach

The 2014 NRL season will be John Cartwright’s 8th as coach of the Gold Coast. He does enter the season with some pressure, given that the Titans have not played finals football since 2010. However, since then the player roster has undergone a massive rebuild as many of the players in the 2010 team were on their last legs. In my opinion, the squad for the Titans has never been overly strong for their majority of their history, yet they have always been quite competitive. This is partly due to the ability of Cartwright to get his players mentally ready for matches. If they do let him go, I can’t see the Titans replacing Cartwright with a better coach.

Best Squad

  1. William Zillman
  2. Kevin Gordon
  3. Brad Takairangi
  4. Maurice Blair
  5. David Mead
  6. Aidan Sezer
  7. Albert Kelly
  8. Luke Bailey
  9. Matt Srama
  10. Luke Douglas
  11. Greg Bird
  12. Nate Myles
  13. Ashley Harrison
  14. Beau Falloon
  15. Dave Taylor
  16. Ryan James
  17. Mark Minichiello

Prediction

10th. Prior to the departure of Jamal Idris, I had the Titans in the top 8. Yes, his departure is that significant as they no longer possess a lot of attacking strike power in the centres. Another factor in this prediction is the uncertainty regarding the health of young gun Albert Kelly. If he misses a substantial amount of games in 2014, then the Titans are no chance of making the top 8. Their forward pack is one of the best in the NRL and this will keep them in games but they need to be at full strength in the backline if they are to better last season’s effort of 11 wins. The start to the season provides opportunity for the Titans to accrue some early victories, as five of their first eight games are against sides who missed the finals in 2013.

2014 Ladder Prediction

  1. Penrith Panthers
  2. Gold Coast Titans
  3. St George Illawarra Dragons
  4. Brisbane Broncos
  5. New Zealand Warriors
  6. Wests Tigers
  7. Parramatta Eels
  8. Canberra Raiders
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