NRL: Finals Football is now the pass mark for the Gold Coast Titans

@Hayward_AdamK

The future of the Gold Coast Titans has not look this positive since their inception in 2007. They have improved exponentially under coach Justin Holbrook, leading the club from 16th to ninth in his first season at the helm.

Any improvement from last place in 2019 was considered a pass mark for the Titans this past season but jumping an impressive seven spots on the ladder means any improvement from their ninth-place finish is a finals birth. A top eight finish in 2021 is now the pass mark for the glitter strip club.

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The Titans finished the season strong with five-straight victories including a 42-24 rout of the Manly Sea Eagles and a 36-6 thrashing of the finals-bound Newcastle Knights in the final two rounds. One could argue that if the season wasn’t cut short to 20 rounds due the COVID-19 pandemic, they may have qualified for the finals.

They finished 2020 as Queensland’s number one side, comfortably outperforming their northern neighbours the North Queensland Cowboys who finished 14th and the Brisbane Broncos who collected their first ever wooden spoon. They notched up an impressive 30-10 victory over the Cowboys in round 13 and for the first time in the club’s history, they defeated “big brother” the Brisbane Broncos twice in a season.

What was most impressive about the Titans in 2020 was not just the nine wins, it was the competitiveness and the fight they showed against some of the top sides, especially during the back half of the season.

They held their own against premiership heavyweights Penrith Panthers and Sydney Roosters in rounds 11 and 12. Although they fell short by eight and six points respectively, it was these two games that instilled a belief in that they could compete with the top sides when many expected them to be blown off the park. They even had their chances to win both games, and it would be fair to say they copped a few dud calls in their Roosters clash – but it was a value learning curve for Holbrook’s men.

The Titans are a side which has plenty of room for improvement and those are the games they need to win next season if they are to progress to the finals.

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They have recruited well, with Origin stars David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Tongan International Herman Ese’Ese. They join Kiwi International Kevin Proctor, ex-Origin front rower Jarrod Wallace and Moe Fotuaika who made his Origin debut in game two of the 2020 series.

Add the bright young talent of Jaimin Joliffe, Jai Whitbread, Sam Lisone and Beau Fermor, the Titans will possess one of the most formidable forward packs in the competition.

Halfback Jamal Fogarty has been a revelation and one of the feel-good stories of the 2020 season. For an inexperienced half, he showed plenty of maturity, managed the side well and Holbrook rewarded him with a promotion to stand-in captain when Kevin Proctor was suspended. Fogarty has also proven to be the key to unlocking the potential of halves partner Ash Taylor, allowing Holbrook to take the pressure of game management off Taylor by shifting him from halfback to five-eighth, enabling him to just focus on his own game.

Fogarty, who was signed to a development deal back in March, was rewarded for his good form with an upgrade and an extension until the end of 2022, is keen to continue building a strong combination with Taylor for the long term.

Taylor however, is now in the final year of his $1 million contract and will be playing for his future at the Titans. He has already stated that he is willing to take a pay cut to remain on the Gold Coast beyond 2021, but the club will still be looking for a return on their current investment.

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In order for the Titans to crack the top eight and perhaps strive for a top four spot, they need Taylor playing to his full potential. He has an excellent passing and kicking game and he rediscovered his running game in the latter half of this past season. At his best, there are not too many halves in the competition who are as prolific as Taylor in racking up the try assists.

As impressive as the forward pack is looking on paper, the Titans also have some slick outside backs with speed to burn such as Queensland Origin representative Philip Sami, Brian Kelly who won the Titans player of the year in 2020, cult hero Anthony Don, the reliable Corey Thompson and Warriors recruit Patrick Herbert.

Livewire fullback AJ Brimson has been a revelation since his return from a serious back injury. His form at the backend of the 2020 season saw him rewarded with an Origin debut before the injury curse struck again. If he can stay fit, he is the X-factor that will win many games for the Titans next season.

Anything less than a finals berth in 2021 should be considered a failure for the Gold Coast Titans. They have built a very competitive roster, they are very well coached, and they have built a strong culture of hard work with a ‘football before the Gold Coast lifestyle’ mentality. No more excuses.