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2014 NRL Preview: Gold Coast Titans

Gold Coast Titans Stats

2013 Record: 11 wins from 24 premiership games (ninth placed)
5-year record: 58 wins from 120 premiership games (48% win record)

Player Movements

Arrivals: Brad Tighe, Maurice Blair, Christian Hazard, Paul Carter, Suiatonga Likiliki, Kalifa Faifailoa.

Departures: Jamal Idris, Mark O’Dare, Hymel Hunt, Luke O’Dwyer, Marmin Barba, Matt Russell, Jordan Rankin.

Coach: John Cartwright

Fixtures to start and end 2014

First five fixtures: Sharks (A), Tigers (H), Raiders (A), Cowboys (H), Storm (A)
Final five fixtures: Roosters (A), Sea Eagles (H), Dragons (A), Warriors (A), Bulldogs (H)

iSelect Titans 2014 Preview

Being a Titans fan is very much akin to the childish rhyme “here I sit broken hearted, paid a penny and only farted”. Over recent seasons the sun-bronzed faithful have swapped their banana chairs and surfboards for the brooding stands at Skilled Park, full of hope and expectation only to be faced with a gut-wrenching, early season exit. What can they expect in 2014?

Three years ago at this time, the club was in 2010 yet incredibly won the dreaded wooden spoon. Two years ago, on the back of a buying spree and the injection of marketing guru David May as CEO hopes soared, only for the team to flop around at 11th. Last year, inaugural skipper Scott Prince did a runner and by May CEO May was history too as the club stumbled to a disappointing 9th.

2014 has started with a whimper rather than a bang. No matter what spin the club puts on it, the exit of Jamal Idris to Penrith and the arrival of Panthers lightweight Brad Tighe was not a fair swap but that won’t cost the club its first premiership. The issues within the Titans revolve more around coaching and club finances than the make-up of the team.

Already the social media wires are burning hot with the rumour that off-season recruit, Cowboys reject coach Neil Henry, is likely to be elevated from his current assistants role to replace the increasingly sour John Cartwright. Many will argue that a change of clipboard is overdue considering the resources provided and the very mediocre team performances.

Furthermore, ex-NRL luminary and ex-NSW politician Graham Annersley has joined the white-shoe brigade on the Coast as CEO.

Compounding management intrigue is the phenomenon that sightings of majority owner and director of football Michael Searle have become more rare than a six-foot swell at the Isle of Capri. However, in the continued absence of the often-promised Board of Management there is little doubt that Searle is still twiddling the club’s strings when he is not diddling in the Cayman’s.

The club does have a lot more stable look about its stable this year but that is more about mediocrity rather than any emerging dynasty. Unless the revamped coaching group can conjure-up a new game plan, the Gold Coast will reverberate to the sound of mass yawning from emptying stands as the team rolls through more mind-numbing sets of five hit-ups leading to a Hail Mary kick.

There is s a flicker only at this stage. The precocious talent of halfback Albert Kelly blended with livewire pivot Aiden Sezer was a highlight of the season past. These two hold the key, along with some added depth provided by South Sydney U20 signing Christian Hazard and the return of journeyman Beau Henry from injury. The Titans finally have options in those key positions.

The outside backs do look less brittle with centre Brad s Maurice Blair and the Panthers Tighe whilst boom wingman Kalifa Faifailoa has wandered down from North Queensland and Siuatonga Likiliki was signed from the Knights.

Where they can win it

Every pundit knows the cliché “forwards win rugby league matches” and the Titans are well-endowed in that area. With a more focused Dave Taylor and that hair-guy, tyro Ryan James providing much-needed grunt, established masters Greg Bird and Nate Myles will have options to compliment ageing bruisers Luke Bailey and Luke Douglas. With crowd favourites Matt White and Ash Harrison also returning from injury plus forgotten hitman Ben Ridge and evergreen Mark “Hands” Minichiello, the Coast looks capable of mixing it with the best.

Last years surprise package Beau Falloon has stolen the pole position as hooker over Matt Srama as the Philippine representative struggles to recover from an ankle problem. Back-up nine, rookie Sam Irwin, has also gone down with an ankle problem so Falloon looks certain to continue to push the team around. This will end by default, at least for a short time, Cartwright’s insistence on playing a hooking rotation and appease a large section of his critics.

Where they may struggle

s the backs which look susceptible, particularly at fullback. Incumbent William Zillman has been the target of some particularly scathing criticism from the clubs fan base.

Coach Cartwright seems bereft of ideas and gave wing sensation and PNG star David Mead several games last season in this key position. Although Mead made a fair fist of it, he is by no means an NRL class fullback at this time. Swapping a world-class wing to morph him into a stop-gap fullback seems a desperate move although a recent poll of fans supported the concept.

Match winner

This must be the break-out season for 5/8 Sezer. Whether he is at first or second receiver, he will need to put his stamp on the team’s play and over-call his monster forward pack. It may have been intimidating for him last season but that year’s experience should now materialise as confidence.

With a range of partners on offer there is every chance that Cartwright will give Hazard a taste of NRL. If Kelly doesn’t recover from a potentially debilitating blood circulation problem in his feet that opportunity may come very quickly.

Rookies to watch

The media has been talking-up Likiliki, Tighe and Blair but the one to slip under the radar has been ex-Bulldogs U20 backrow Paul Carter, son of Panthers legend Steve. This young man has the rugby league world at his feet. He is hard and skilled and just the type of no-nonsense player that Cartwright likes.

The big plays

Will Cartwright stumble on a winning formula? Will Assistant Coach Henry stumble into the number one job? Will the team stumble in to the finals? There is little doubt in every Titans’ fan’s mind that the team has the potential to challenge in September although a place higher than eighth may be ambitious.

online poll by Opinion Stage

Injuries: Matt Srama (ankle – Round 4), Sam Irwin (ankle Round 6)

Likely team Round 1 v Sharks (away)

1. William Zillman
2. Kevin Gordon
3. Maurice Blair
4. Brad Tighe
5. David Mead
6. Aiden Sezer
7. Albert Kelly
8. Ryan James
9. Beau Falloon
10. Luke Douglas
11. Greg Bird (c)
12. Nate Myles (c)
13. Ashley Harrison

14. Dave Taylor
15. Luke Bailey
16. Mark Minichiello
17. Brad Takairangi

Other squad members
(alphabetical order): 18. Jordan Atkins 19. Shaun Carney 20. Paul Carter 21. Anthony Don 22. Jamie Dowling 23. Kalifa Faifailoa 24. Shane Gray 25. Christian Hazard 26. Beau Henry 27. Jahrome Hughes 28. Mark Ioane 29. Sam Irwin 30. Siuatonga Likiliki 31. Cody Nelson 32. Luke Page 33. Ben Ridge 34. Matt Srama 35. Matt White.

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