The Gold Coast Titans deserved to play finals football last season. After a shaky start, they finished off the regular season with five straight wins: had there been one more game, no doubt they would have pushed the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks for eighth position.
Granted, their win streak was against teams who had no chance of making the finals, except the final game where they defeated the Newcastle Knights in a dominate fashion. So, what has changed to make the Titans one of the more interesting teams heading into next season?
Simple, it’s their coach and recruitment.
The Titans have a history of mediocrity with players, coaches, and front office personnel.
Yet they finally got something right, hiring Justin Holbrook as their head coach.
Most football fans probably had never heard of Justin, as he’d only played 17 matches in the NRL. Working as an assistant coach with various clubs, his head coaching career started at St Helens, winning an impressive 70 games out of 87 and winning the 2019 Super League Grand Final.
Justin knows success, and that is why the Titans made a play and hired him: they have gone from a bottom four team to a potential top eight team in the space of a year.
The change in culture and attitude within the team is exactly what fans have been hoping for.
One of the best decisions so far has been switching Ash Taylor from halfback to five-eighth and having Jamal Fogarty play halfback.
Sometimes it’s the simple things, such as changing a player’s position in the team.
At five-eighth, Ash Taylor played his best football in a long time, with 15 try assists, three line breaks, 13 tackle busts, three tries, and a total of 3,481 kick metres.
Jamal controlled the game exceptionally well for someone who has spent the majority of his career in reserve grade. His kicking game and ability to lead took a lot of pressure off Ash to play his natural game.
When you pay a player $1 million a season, you expect them to be your best player.
However, this is not the case with the Titans: without question their best player is AJ Brimson, who missed a good chunk of the season. He’s another player who played their best football under Holbrook and who will only get better.
Having only played nine games this season, AJ finished the season with seven tries, four try assists, 38 tackle busts, and an average of 12 runs and 149 metres per game.
His influence at fullback helped transform the Titans in attack, and with another pre-season under Holbrook, expect Brimson to take his game to another level next season.
The most important aspect in the Titans’ improvement under Holbrook was their defence.
They were poor defensively at the start of the season, yet the coach identified the problem, fixed it, and in the final eight games they ranked in the top eight in defence.
Their defence improved so much that they nearly defeated two premiership heavyweights in the Sydney Roosters and the Penrith Panthers.
Of course, their forward pack stepped up huge this year, with Moeaki Fotuaika clearly being the best forward. His presence through the middle – and being the most consistent middle forward for them – was a massive boost for the Titans.
Playing 18 games, Moeaki finished with an average of 137 run metres and 30 tackles per game. Others to mention in the Titans’ success include Kevin Proctor, Corey Thompson, Sam Stone, Jarrod Wallace, and Tyrone Peachey.
In recruitment alone they have improved as well, signing the key forwards that will make the biggest difference to the team next season.
Losing Jai Arrow to South Sydney is something that most Titans fans can gladly accept, because his value at the Titans was dropping fast each season. His continuous inconsistency was incredibly frustrating to watch, and now that’s South Sydney issue to deal with, at $900,000 per year.
The Titans have recruited exceptionally well for next season and the best signing isn’t the most expensive one.
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui will be the Titans’ best forward next year and the Storm will surely miss his impact off the bench. Tino is a starting forward, and – whether he starts in the middle or edge – he is in the Titans’ starting 13.
Coming off the bench for the majority of the season for the Storm, his impact was a major reason why they won the premiership: averaging 118 run metres, 21 tackles, and two tackle busts per game.
With Tino joining Moeaki, Proctor, Stone, and new recruit Herman Ese’ese (who is another great pick up for the Titans), the Titans have one of best young forward packs in the NRL.
And of course there is David Fifita.
Will he live up to the price tag?
Probably not, but it’s still a win for the Titans. That must have hurt Broncos fans, and they’ll need to get used to the Titans being the best team in QLD for the foreseeable future.
Holbrook is building the team he wants, a team he can win with, a team that may be the start of something. The only thing they need to improve is who their number nine will be.
If they could land Brandon Smith’s signature, that would be the final piece to the puzzle. But if they could land Cameron Smith’s signature, I would put them in the top four without question.
With Brimson, Fa’asuamaleaui, Taylor, Fifita, and Fotuaika in the team, expect results, expect growth, expect improvement, but more importantly expect success.
Holbrook is the key to the success and failure of this Gold Coast Titans team: it’s about time they succeeded.