The shock late-season acquisition of Jarryd Hayne was unquestionably the biggest coup of Gold Coast’s chequered 10-season history, but there was always a danger the cross-code megastar’s arrival could unsettle the Titans’ momentum.
The Titans had surged into contention for an unlikely finals berth with an unheralded line-up that was far more than the sum of its individual parts, playing an ultra-committed, no-frills brand of footy under astute coach Neil Henry.
But in Hayne, the unfancied Titans all of a sudden had a marquee player – and one of the biggest names of the modern era at that – drawing the spotlight onto a side that had revelled in flying under the radar.
They immediately transformed from a top-eight smoky into a team with a heap of expectation on them, even a title contender in the eyes of some experts.
A suffocating media presence the Titans were not accustomed to became a daily occurrence.
As well as providing a much-needed boost to the club’s coffers, Hayne has certainly made an on-field impact. He was outstanding off the bench in his return against the Warriors and kicked an unforgettable match-winning field goal a week later against Wests Tigers.
The flow-on effect of his presence has arguably been detrimental, however. Rookie halfback Ashley Taylor – so brilliant and level-headed all season – has appeared tentative. That hasn’t been helped by a groin complaint, but Taylor doesn’t seem as confident in taking control of the Titans’ direction in attack.
With Taylor and Tyrone Roberts both fit for the first time in four weeks, Henry was forced to move Hayne from five-eighth. The coach bit the bullet by naming the recruit in his customary fullback spot and dropping in-form David Mead.
Hayne had several encouraging touches in Saturday’s crucial 15-14 loss to Penrith at Cbus Super Stadium, but he was clearly well short on conditioning. The Panthers singled him out for plenty of work and it told at the back end of the match when the Titans were desperately in search of points.
The Titans had a mountain of possession in Panthers territory as they overturned a 14-point halftime deficit, but with their halves in two minds and Hayne low on energy, the hosts produced some of their most unimaginative attack of the season.
Perhaps moving Hayne to centre would have been more beneficial for the match-winner, and less unsettling for the Titans unit.
Meanwhile, their agonising loss has opened the door for the winner of Sunday’s Warriors-Tigers encounter in Auckland.
The Titans face a daunting assignment against North Queensland in Townsville next Saturday to lock in a return to the finals for the first time since 2010. If, as expected, the Cowboys prevail, the Titans will be at the mercy of the Warriors (who host Parramatta) or Tigers (who host Canberra) on the last Sunday of the regular season.
Getting Hayne on board is sure to prove one of the defining moments in the Titans’ history. With a full pre-season under his belt, he’ll hit the ground running in 2017 and the south-east Queensland club should be right in the premiership mix.
— jarryd hayne (@JarrydHayne) August 26, 2016
The off-field benefits guarantee Hayne’s huge salary is money well spent, and it was understandably impossible to resist fast-tracking him into the team this year.
But his inevitably disruptive arrival at a crucial juncture of a landmark Titans campaign has arguably derailed a richly-deserved finals berth for the former underdogs.