The Turbulent History of Rugby League on the Gold Coast

This week’s revelations of alleged cocaine possession by a number of Gold Coast Titans players, including their three of their best players in Dave Taylor, Greg Bird and Nate Myles, is another blow to the troubled Titans.Financial woes, declining crowds and a lack of success on the field have hampered their progress but it isn’t the first time a Gold Coast franchise has struggled. Adam Bagnall looks at the history of Gold Coast franchises, from the original Giants, to the current-day Titans.

Gold Coast-Tweed Giants: 1988-89

Gold Coast Tweed Giants doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Their debut season in 1988 yielded just 4 wins from 22 matches, and they conceded nearly 500 points. Their highlight was a 25-22 win over the Brisbane Broncos, in front of 13,423 fans,their first ever win, and it took them 10 rounds to achieve this milestone. Although they avoided the wooden spoon, financial issues haunted the club for much of the season. In 1989, they fared a little better, winning 7 games, but a dismal attack scored just 34 tries for the entire season.

Gold Coast Sea Gulls: 1990-95

A change of name and colours couldn’t improve their play, slumping to just 4 wins for the 1990 season, although crowd figures rose slightly. In 1991, QLD Maroons legend Wally Lewis joined the club, but remarkably the team had its’ worst season to date, winning just 2 games and claiming the dreaded wooden spoon. In 1992 they claimed the wooden spoon again, winning just 6 games all season, the final one for Lewis. The club won its third consecutive wooden spoon in 1993, with just a solitary win all season, one marred by in-fighting between coach Wally Lewis and club management. The club was also fined $50,000 for exceeding their 1992 salary cap by $50,000.

They managed to avoid the wooden spoon in 1994, but still finished second last, with just 5 wins all season. In comparison with the other clubs that had joined the NSWRL in the 1980’s- Canberra, Brisbane, Illawarra and Newcastle, the Sea Gulls were lagging badly, without a single Grand Final appearance in any grade and a constant turnover of players meant that no one had racked up 100 games for the club during its’ seven seasons to date. 1995 was the final year for the Sea Gulls, with the Sea Gulls Leagues Club withdrawing their support at the end of the year and the Super League war rearing its ugly head. On the field they endured another lean season, winning just 4 games, finishing 17th out of 20 teams. Overall, the Sea Gulls managed a woeful 22 wins over their six seasons, including three wooden spoons between 1991-93.

Gold Coast Chargers: 1996-98

The licence was bought by local millionaire Jeff Muller, and after initially set to be called the Gold Coast Gladiators, the club became known as the Gold Coast Chargers. Unfortunately a new coach, colours and name failed to translate to results on the field, and the club won just 5 games during their debut season in 1996. They moved up to 10th position after six rounds but couldn’t sustain the effort, and fell away badly, managing just one win and a draw over the final 12 rounds. In 1997, the club made its’ finals debut, albeit during the tumultuous Super League season of 1997 where teams were split up, so the ARL competition contained just 12 teams. In their finals debut they accounted for the Illawarra Steelers 25-14 but were humbled 32-10 by the Sydney Roosters a week later.

1998 turned out to be the final year for the Chargers. A year of in-fighting, political agendas and a constant procession of administrators, coaching staff and players saw the club win just 4 games and finish second last. The Super League and ARL united in 1998, and the Hunter Mariners, desperate for their own survival after being overlooked for the 1998 season, offered the club first pick of their players plus a $5 million grant on the proviso that a number of Mariners staff would be taken on board. The Chargers denied the offer and were subsequently disbanded in December 1998. The club missed out on signing the likes of Brett Kimmorley, Richard Swain and Scott Hill, who all won a premiership with the Melbourne Storm in 1999.

Gold Coast Titans: 2007-Present

The National Rugby League overlooked a number of would-be franchises from Perth, the Central Coast and New Zealand to give the Titans an NRL license for the 2007 season and beyond. They played their first NRL match at Suncorp Stadium, bravely going down to the St George Illawarra Dragons 20-18. The club finished the season in 12th position. In 2008 the Titans played out of their new stadium Skilled Park and christened it with a 36-18 thumping of the North Queensland Cowboys. The club led the competition from rounds 6-11, halfback Scott Prince leading the way. However a broken arm in an Origin match ended Prince’s season, and the Titans fell away badly, finishing in 13th position. On a brighter note the club posted a $1.5 million dollar profit.

A successful 2009 season saw them finish in third position, with several future stars such as David Mead and Kevin Gordon getting a taste of first grade. In 2010 the club signed a number of new players including Greg Bird and Clinton Toopi, finishing the regular season in 4th position. They won their opening finals match and other results saw them host a preliminary final against the Roosters where they went down 32-6. The following season was a disaster, losing their opening 3 games, while winger Kevin Gordon missed most of the year with a knee injury. They lured Matt Rogers out of retirement, but he broke his foot in his first game , and a round 26 “wooden spoon showdown” with the Parramatta Eels saw them go down 32-12.

2012 saw the losses of foundation players Matt Rogers, Nathan Friend, Preston Campbell and Anthony Laffranchi. In came giant centre Jamal Idris as well as Luke Douglas and Nate Myles. The season started poorly with the club losing 4 of its’ opening 5 games and it was revealed the Titans had fallen into a $25 million dollar debt. A mid-season revival kept their hopes alive but they lost 4 of their last 5 games to again miss out on the finals.

Captain Scott Prince left for the Broncos ahead of the 2013 season, but they recruited man-mountain Dave Taylor from the Rabbitohs and Albert Kelly who had been sacked from his two previous clubs. Again a bright start to the year was soured by an inconsistent season and they finished on 26 points, 2 points behind the 8th-placed Cowboys to miss the finals for the third year in a row. Their 2014 campaign was derailed when centre Jamal Idris left to immediately join the Panthers, just two years into a 5-year deal. For the second consecutive year the team started brightly, winning 5 of their opening 6 matches however they then went on a six game losing streak, of which 5 were at their home ground. The year ended poorly, and foundation coach John Cartwright announced he would be stepping down after round 22, and Neil Henry took the reigns for the final four rounds. The club was fined $300,000 for salary cap breaches relating to Scott Prince’s salary and they are set to lose 4 competition points if another breach occurs within the next two years.

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