Following a miraculous 2016 season which was built on the foundations of commitment, determination and pride, the star-studded Gold Coast Titans head into 2017 with the unfamiliar burden of expectation.
The Titans relished the under-dog status in 2016, as the predicted wooden-spooners defied all expectations to qualify for the clubs first finals appearance since 2010. Neil Henry was able to add some impressive firepower to his squad throughout the season in the likes of Nathan Peats, Konrad Hurrell and Jarryd Hayne, however the team’s “never say die” attitude in every single game was undoubtedly the main contributor to their success.
After being unwanted by their former clubs, players such as Chris McQueen, Tyrone Roberts, Leivaha Pulu and Zab Taia epitomised the determination and spirit that the Titans played with each week, and they all performed above the expectations set for them. Their gritty style of play kept them competitive each week, however it was the emergence of rookie halfback Ashley Taylor as a genuine match winner that has the Titans looking towards 2017 with so much optimism.
The 21-year-old halfback lead the Titans to the finals in his first season in the NRL, and with fellow young gun Kane Elgey set to join him in the halves, the Gold Coast have assembled an exciting halves pairing that could steer the side for the next decade. The addition of some quality forwards in Kevin Proctor and Jarrod Wallace has the Titans looking strong up front, and with Hayne and Hurrell firing in the backline, the Gold Coast head into 2017 with arguably the clubs strongest ever side.
With the Titans now dropping the under-dog tag, they face the challenge of maintaining the spirit and grit that served them so well in 2016. If they are able to do so in 2017 with an even stronger side on hand, the sky is the limit for the Gold Coast Titans.
There is no doubting that if Jarryd Hayne can come even close to his top form, the Titans will cruise into the top 8. However, after a mixed return to the NRL at the end of the 2016 season and a pre-season disrupted by injury, the big question is whether the 2-time Dally M medallist can recapture the form that saw him tear the competition apart in previous seasons. With the Titans, Hayne is playing in one of the strongest sides of his career, and he could return to his scintillating best if Neil Henry is able to effectively utilise him alongside the rest of the weapons they possess. On the other hand, Hayne could prove to be the Titans’ own undoing if they rely too heavily on him to create something out of nothing. Either way, the Gold Coast’s marquee man is sure to have a huge influence on the outcome on their season.
With Ashley Taylor setting the NRL by storm in 2016, all of the spotlight has been taken away from the man whose injury gifted him the halfback jersey. Kane Elgey was just as impressive in his debut season, and he looked like a star of the future despite playing in a Titans side that finished 14th. Elgey will return with a fire in his eyes after missing the entirety of 2016 with an ACL injury, and with an almost completely new side to the one that he played with in 2015,the 23-year-old is set to thrive. All of the pressure will now be focused on big names such as Taylor and Hayne, allowing Elgey to pick oppositions apart with his deadly long balls and deft passing and kicking game.
Story of 2017
After a long run of tough times, the Titans finally have reason to be optimistic. However,the extent of their success in 2017 relies on plenty of factors going their way. The Gold Coast have already had a pre-season ravaged by injuries as star players Jarryd Hayne, Konrad Hurrell and Kevin Proctor spent a good portion on the sideline. They also head into the early stage of the season with no recognised hookers as Nathan Peats will miss at least the first 4 weeks with a shoulder injury, and his back-up Pat Politoni has also been sidelined with a broken arm. The Titans are also lacking depth in the backline, and an injury to Hayne or Hurrell would leave them with little strike power out wide.
Luck was certainly on the Titans side in 2016, and their potential in 2017 all hinges on the word “if.” If they stay healthy, if Hayne finds form, if Elgey and Taylor click, the Titans could very well win the competition. But if injury strikes and the players struggle to perform, the Titans could fight to make the eight in a competition that is as close as we’ve ever seen.
Top Try Scorer: Anthony Don
Top Points Scorer: Ashley Taylor
Player of the Year: Jarryd Hayne