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Season preview: Are the Titans bound for September?

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Roar Guru
13th February, 2019
8

The 2018 season didn’t feel like a failure for the Titans as an impartial observer.

They finished 14th, which on paper is hardly a success, but they always seemed hard to beat and had an ability to punch above their weight, even if they didn’t always get the result. This is a young squad with an inexperienced coach and, all things considered, they were far from the most disappointing team of 2018.

That said, they need to start putting wins together and pressuring for a top-eight finish. This is a team without a finals win since 2010 – the only other fans who have been suffering longer are those of the Eels. They have some cavalry arriving this year who should move them up the ladder as well as some young talent who fans should be excited about.

The Titans won eight matches last year, but only one of those was against a top-eight side. They lost four matches against finalists by a margin of two or less, three of these against top-four finishers. This was demonstrative of the Titans’ ability to compete but their inability to close games out.

Story of the off-season

It has been a relatively quiet off-season for the Titans, which would be suiting them just fine with the scandals engulfing other clubs. Towards the end of last season there was speculation that Tyrone Peachey would backflip on his deal with the club to stay in Sydney, but such reports were off the mark, with Peachey arriving at the Titans as planned.

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Gains

Jesse Arthars (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2019), Shannon Boyd (Canberra Raiders, 2022), Ryley Jacks (Melbourne Storm, 2019), Brian Kelly (Manly Sea Eagles, 2021), Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers, 2021) and Tyrone Roberts (Warrington Wolves, 2020).

The Titans seem to be taking a bit of a ‘moneyball’ approach to their recruiting. It isn’t the flashiest bunch, but it does move to solve some problems and give them some depth. Shannon Boyd is a bit more experience and bring consistency up front. Brian Kelly returns after a solid couple of seasons at Manly to add some depth to the backline. Tyrone Roberts and Ryley Jacks are potential halves partners for Ash Taylor after the departure of Kane Elgey. Tyrone Peachey can play virtually anywhere and will add some spark to the team as well as experience.

Where Peachey plays for the Titans is potentially crucial. Last year he played at five-eighth, centre and fullback for the Panthers as well as coming off the bench. Now, with Origin experience, his contribution will be valuable wherever he plays.

Losses

Kane Elgey (Manly Sea Eagles), Brendan Elliot (Manly Sea Eagles), Joe Greenwood (Wigan Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Leeds Rhinos) and Ryan Simpkins (retired).

The departures for the Titans don’t leave them short based on how they have recruited. It is for the most part fringe first-graders and players in the twilight of their career.

How does their roster rate?

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It is not exactly an all-star cast over at the Titans, but it is probably a team that isn’t getting enough credit. AJ Brimson was impressive in his debut season and is likely to get first crack at fullback. If that plan doesn’t work out, they have the ever-reliable Michael Gordon for another season, who is also a handy goal kicker.

The Titans wing pairing combined for 29 tries last year in Anthony Don and Phillip Sami. They don’t get the most wraps but they are certainly consistent. The centre pairing will depend on who Garth Brennan wants playing where. Tyrone Peachey has spent plenty of time there for the Panthers in recent seasons but may be used elsewhere. Dale Copley, Brenko Lee and Brian Kelly are the remaining options. They may not make for the most exciting backline, but at least there’s a healthy competition for spots.

The halves pairing will most likely start out as Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts. It was surprising to me to see Roberts depart the club over Kane Elgey, but now he returns as Elgey moves on to Manly. Taylor has been the shining light for the Titans over the past few years, and the sooner he gets some quality help, the better. Roberts could be that man, but if not, there’s the option of moving Peachey there instead, a ploy that could see him get more ball. Ryley Jacks from Melbourne is another option in the halves for Garth Brennan too.

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In the hooking role the Titans have Nathan Peats, an Origin-quality hooker at his best. They have depth too with Mitch Rein coming off the bench often last season and more than capable of filling in if need be.

The Titans pack is a good one. Ryan James has been on the cusp of Origin selection for a number of seasons. Jarrod Wallace has Origin experience. They add more to the front row with Shannon Boyd coming across from the Raiders. Jai Arrow played the entire Origin series last season and will start the year at lock once again.

Kevin Proctor has represented his country and has been a consistent performer for the Titans during his time there. Keegan Hipgrave had some issues with discipline in 2018 but added some real aggression and energy to the side. Conversely Bryce Cartwright had a season to forget in 2018. It is important not to forget what he can do at his best if Garth Brennan can somehow get it out of him.

The Titans have a pack that can lay a platform, they have Origin and international experience and they have a real dynamic side to them if everyone in the forwards is playing at their best. What they can do off the back of that is the question. The Titans have had real trouble getting a halves partner who has properly gelled with Ash Taylor so far and a backline that is far from the most dangerous in the competition.

If the Titans do want to make a fist of things in 2019, it’ll need to be off the back of a defensive game and capitalising on more opportunities that the forward pack affords them.

Bryce Cartwright

Bryce Cartwright of the Titans. (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Key Man

Tyrone Peachey. Peachey is one of the bigger signings for the Titans in recent times. Now at 27 years of age, he is going into the prime of his career. Having played just about everywhere at Penrith, this is his opportunity to nail down a position and really push the Titans towards the top eight.

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He has always been a player who seemingly makes good things happen around him regardless of the number on his back. He brings a level of energy onto the field that inspires teammates and can change the momentum in football games. Peachey has a really dynamic game that makes him valuable to a football team. He has always been a good runner of the football, but he has a pass and kick in him too. He can come up with a clutch play, and often was the man the Panthers looked to when they needed something.

The job for Garth Brennan is to quickly and effectively decide where Peachey should be playing. He won’t be coming off the bench at the Titans as he did for the Panthers at times – he will probably start at centre to give Tyrone Roberts a shot in the halves – but it may prove more effective to have Peachey at five-eighth and more around the middle of the park.

Ash Taylor is a great provider, with 17 try assists and 12 line-break assists last season as well as 12 forced drop-outs. Peachey is strong runner of the football and Brennan may want him to complement Taylor and take some heat off him. Wherever Peachey plays he will be good for the Titans. Look for him to be busy early in the season.

Tyrone Peachey

Tyrone Peachey is Titans-bound. (Matt King/Getty Images)

Where do they need to improve?

The Titans lost six matches by a converted try or less last year. This competition is a game of inches, and you find that the teams in the eight are the ones winning more of the close ones than they are losing them. The Titans won just the one match by a converted try or less in 2018. It is reflective of an inexperienced side that hasn’t yet learnt to close out games.

They were by no means the only team stung by the comeback kids in the Panthers last year, but they managed to concede a try on the siren and then a field goal in extra time to lose to them in 2018. This was after leading by ten going into the final ten. It is indicative of their inability to finish games strongly and close matches out.

It goes without saying of sides that finished in the bottom four that defence needs to improve. The Titans leaked on average more than 24 points per game last year.

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The Titans conceded the most tries of any side off penalties last year. It is a sign that their discipline needs to improve and that they need to work on defending their mistakes.

Draw

The Titans will once again open their season at home against the Raiders. From there they have four tough weeks against teams that made the finals last season.

They play in their home state 14 times during the season but face road trips to Melbourne and New Zealand. They play last year’s top-four teams six times throughout the season.

They will be without Origin representatives as they take on the Cowboys before Origin 1 and have them backing up against the Broncos a week later. They have their bye the week before Origin 3 in Sydney but face the Panthers in Penrith just two days later.

The Titans face a tough end to the season. In the closing six rounds they play only twice at home. They play the Dragons twice as well as the Roosters, Storm and Knights away. They round it out with a home game to the Eels. If the Titans are in striking distance of the finals, they will do well to make it with such a tough end to the season.

Ryan James

The Titans have a tricky draw. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

How will they go?

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It may be more a matter of perception, but I have liked the look of the Titans for the last couple of seasons. They may not be the flashiest team on paper, nor are they always consistent, but they are a team that have managed to punch above their weight and keep in touch with other much more fancied sides for long stretches.

It is a rebuilding club with a roster that could surprise a few people going forward. It has moneyball sort of feel, and if Garth Brennan can get each of his players playing at their best, this side will be pushing for the top eight this season. If he can get his blend of rookies and enigmas on the same page, this is a side that will trouble opponents in 2019.

Brennan needs to get better defence and discipline out of the side along with an adequate partner for Ash Taylor in the halves. This is a kid who has been the source of much of the highlights for the Titans in recent seasons and he needs some help.

If the side can stay fit and if the new recruits in Peachey and Roberts gel quickly, the Titans will certainly improve in 2019. With so much ground to make up, though, it will be another rebuilding phase for the Titans, making a step closer to finals redemption. They won’t quite be finals material in 2019.

Predicted Finish: 12th.