Unable to capitalise on the momentum of their encouraging 2016 campaign, the Titans, caught up in off-field drama and suffering some of the worst injury luck in recent memory, failed to get off the ground in 2017. They toiled among the bottom four throughout the season before collapsing in the last six weeks, failing to win a game and free-falling to second-last. The failed Jarryd Hayne experiment is over and Neil Henry has been moved on, with rookie head coach Garth Brennan tasked with ushering in the new era.
The hope is that 2018 is more like 2016 than last season, and there are plenty of parallels — an underrated roster full of unproven talent that has been written off before the season begins and essentially no expectations. But the overwhelmingly competitive nature of the league makes any climb from the bottom a tough ask. Can the Titans lift themselves out of the cellar and beginning building towards a brighter future?
2017 SNAPSHOT: 15th (7-17); Points For – 448 (12th), Points Against – 638 (15th).
BEST RECRUIT: Pickings are slim with a full-blown rebuild underway and Brennan opting to bring in young talent over established players, but two savvy additions in the pack stand out above the rest. Leilani Latu was a revelation for Penrith in 2016 before the arrival of James Tamou forced him out of the starting line-up and heavily restricted his minutes. His passing skills are still among the best for a non-half and he’s no slouch in the work-rate department — if he can get some game-time expect his performances to bounce right back. Alongside him will be Broncos recruit Jai Arrow, who was once considered the heir to Corey Parker’s lock throne but was unable to cut through the club’s depth and was eventually forced out. At just 22 there’s still plenty of time for him to live up to his potential and could quickly lock down the No.13 jersey.
“He’ll have a huge impact for us. I think he came up here to step up and do a job.”
Jarrod Wallace is expecting big things from new recruit Leilani Latu.
— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) January 16, 2018
KEY MAN: The Titans were thoroughly outplayed across the park last season, and building a competitive team from scratch always starts in the middle. Fortunately, this is one of the few areas where the Titans might hold an advantage over most opponents. Jarrod Wallace is the main man here, emerging as one of the best defensive props and finest two-way players in the game, and should continue to grow as the leader of their forward pack. Rumours swirl that Brennan is flirting with moving Ryan James to the edge, but his best position remains prop for the time being and he makes for the perfect, offensive-inclined partner for Wallace. Peats is a terrific, borderline top-five hooker and instrumental to their success – he just needs to stay healthy.
UNDER THE PUMP: After starting his NRL career with plenty of promise, Kane Elgey’s rise took a detour following a season-ending torn ACL in 2016. His return was turbulent, struggling to reclaim his spot amid poor form and failing to pick up the rhythm after spending a year out of first grade. The pressure is two-fold: with Tyrone Roberts moving on, The Titans have no established talent to challenge for the halves spot alongside Ashley Taylor, and with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, Elgey may be playing for his future in the league.
Titans playmaker Elgey hoping to put nightmare 2017 behind him
Kane Elgey can now speak openly about the mental… https://t.co/UYUE0wtp2w
— ERLEAGUE (@ERLEAGUE) December 16, 2017
SELECTION POSER: Michael Gordon has been a reliable option at fullback for the last few years, but that’s come within the construct of good teams where his role has been rather limited. At age 34, Gordon will be asked to carry a bigger load on this young team, and rarely do older players improve with a higher workload. Don’t be surprised if the Titans finish the season with a younger player at the back and Gordon on the wing. Elsewhere, there’s grave concerns for their edge defence, with first-choice centres Konrad Hurrell and Brekno Lee both noted bad defenders.
YOUNG GUN: There’s only one genuine option here. Whilst the team struggles dampened the glowing impression Ash Taylor’s terrific rookie year left on the league universe, and despite playing behind a losing pack most weeks, Taylor still managed to avoid the dreaded second-year syndrome and quietly put together a solid individual season, tying for first in try assists (19) and flashing an intriguing running game that will serve him well moving forward. After penning a lucrative contract in the off-season and committing to the Titans long-term, 2018 should mark the first true year of the Taylor era on the Gold Coast.
Ash Taylor to take a leading role in our 2018 team. https://t.co/zdq8V0t5in
— The Legion (@TitansLegion) January 16, 2018
BREAKOUT SEASON ALERT: Arriving on the scene quietly amid the abundance of injuries last season, Morgan Boyle managed to make 15 appearances in his rookie season, putting forward some nice showings towards the end of the year as he grew in confidence. The selling point is his physical tools: at 194cm and 111kg with plenty of mobility, Boyle has all the hardware to become a dominant big man. With the growing pains out of the way, look for him to begin putting it together in 2018.
THE STAT: The Titans’ 26.6 points conceded per game ranked 15th, behind only the wooden-spoon Knights by a mere 0.4 points. Their offence is nowhere near capable of covering for such a deficit (their average point differential was -7.9 per game), so they’ll need to tidy up on that end if they’re any hope of improving on their position from 2017.
COACH’S JOB SECURITY DANGER RATING: Low – Brennan will be given plenty of time to turn things around on the Gold Coast, and with expectations low for 2018, his job should be safe regardless of how they finish the first year of the rebuild. He’s got his work cut out for him, but it should come with the freedom to experiment.
“It’s pretty exciting for all of the other guys that haven’t had anything to do with him. I feel like it’s a good time to be a part of the club.”
— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) November 21, 2017
THE DRAW: Glass Half Full – 12 full-week turnarounds, by far the most of any team (and some well-deserved good karma after their injury-riddled 2017 season) and no five-day turnarounds. Kick off the season with three non-finals teams and only leave Queensland twice in the first eight weeks.
Glass Half Empty – Finish on a brutal stretch with seven of their last nine games coming against last year’s finals teams (including the entire top four and runner’s up North Queensland) and don’t play more than two home games in a row all season.
POSSIBLE LINE-UP TO START 2018:
1 Michael Gordon
2 Anthony Don
3 Brenko Lee
4 Konrad Hurrell
5 Dale Copley
6 Kane Elgey
7 Ashley Taylor
8 Jarrod Wallace
9 Nathan Peats
10 Ryan James
11 Kevin Proctor
12 Joe Greenwood
13 Jai Arrow
14 Mitch Rein
15 Morgan Boyle
16 Leilani Latu
17 Ryan Simpkins
Week 1 of 2018 = ✅
Check out the ‘Week that was’
— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) January 12, 2018
WAY-TOO-EARLY FORECAST: Wooden spoon contender, bottom four