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NRL 2019 season preview: Gold Coast Titans

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28th February, 2019
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After some positives at the back end of a tough 2018, the Gold Coast Titans have had a strong off-season and will be looking to challenge for a spot in the top eight in 2019.

They might have finished 14th last year, but some of their efforts with a revamped spine and improving forward pack at the back end of last year will have fans excited about what this side can produce in 2019.

In the last month, they were competitive against finals-bound sides like the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers, while also racking up a score on the hapless Sea Eagles.

It was a new-found effort and intensity in defence, led by youngsters like Jai Arrow and Moeaki Fotuaika, while their attack also has plenty of excitement about it.

Potential is a word which has appeared a lot during the first eight sides of this preview series, but it probably applies to the Titans more than anyone else. Guys like AJ Brimson and Ashley Taylor could be the future of rugby league in Australia, but particularly in the case of Taylor, 2019 feels like moving year.

Garth Brennan has had another full pre-season to work his magic at the Titans, and if he can get them rolling early on, they might be able to build a freight train of momentum, but whatever the case, 2019 hardly looks like it’s going to be another version of 2018.

Club fact file

Colours: Gold, White and Blue
Home grounds: CBus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Premierships: 0
Minor premierships: 0
Best finish in last five years: 2016 – 8th (First week of finals)
2018 finish: 14th
Coach: Garth Brennan
Captain: Ryan James

Squad

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Ryan James (c), Jai Arrow, Jesse Arthars, Shannon Boyd, Morgan Boyle, AJ Brimson, Bryce Cartwright, Dale Copley, Anthony Don, Darius Farmer, Moeaki Fotuaika, Michael Gordon, Keegan Hipgrave, Ryley Jacks, Brian Kelly, Max King, Leilani Latu, Brenko Lee, Will Matthews, Tyrone Peachey, Nathan Peats, Kevin Proctor, Mitch Rein, Tyrone Roberts, Phillip Sami, Jack Stockwell, Ashley Taylor, Jarrod Wallace, Jai Whitbread

Changes
Ins: Jesse Arthars (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Shannon Boyd (Canberra Raiders), Ryley Jacks (Melbourne Storm), Brian Kelly (Manly Sea Eagles), Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers), Tyrone Roberts (Warrington Wolves)
Outs: Kane Elgey (Manly Sea Eagles), Brendan Elliott (Manly Sea Eagles), Joe Greenwood (Wigan Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Leeds Rhinos), Ryan Simpkins (retired)

As mentioned in the opening spiel, it’s been a reasonably productive off-season in the transfer market for the Titans. The Gold Coast are clearly trying to build a team who, in the near future, will be able to challenge for the club’s first premiership.

The formula to go about that is to chase guys who, while not necessarily superstars, have the potential to become so – and Garth Brennan could be the guy to bring that out of them.

While their forwards have suffered only one major change, with the losses of Joe Greenwood and Ryan Simpkins allowing Shannon Boyd to join the club, there is no question that’s a good move.

shannon-boyd-australia-rugby-league-kangaroos-four-nations-2016

(AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Neither Greenwood or Simpkins had a noticeable impact for the Titans last year, while Boyd, at his best, could be a wrecking ball. It’s fair to say 2018 wasn’t his best year, but if he can get fit and play a few more minutes, his production has the potential to be off the charts.

This off-season is also a clear line in the sand moment for the Gold Coast. Clearly, the decision has been made that Kane Elgey simply wasn’t going to work out. In his place, the club have two options, with Tyrone Roberts back in the fold from Warrington, and the impressive Melbourne Storm understudy Ryley Jacks joining the club.

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Undoubtedly their biggest move was bringing New South Wales State of Origin utility Tyrone Peachey to the club. He can play just about anywhere on the park, and provides the Titans great depth. He is likely to start in the stop of Konrad Hurrell, while Brendan Elliott has also left the club.

Brian Kelly and Jesse Arthars, who was impressive in a trial against the Cowboys last weekend, are their other signings.

Spine
This is a spine which should excite fans of the Titans and neutrals.

AJ Brimson is one of the game’s hottest young prospects, and will line up at fullback for the Gold Coast. He was exceptional there at the back end of last year, and it wasn’t just his attack.

AJ Brimson runs the ball playing for the Titans

(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

He has shown right through his time in the lower grades, then wherever he was playing for the Titans, that he has incredible vision to go with pace, acceleration and agility.

But his defence at fullback was something else. That same level of vision saw him in the right spot 99 per cent of the time. While the Titans did concede points at times with him at the back, that was more of a problem with their pack and edges, than him.

Brimson will be joined in the spine by Ashley Taylor, who needs to take his game to the next level in guiding his side around the park.

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Taylor has been strong, but never quite consistently at the level he has shown at his best.

He has been put on notice by coach Brennan as well, but it’s the man next to him – Tyrone Roberts – who could allow Taylor to go to another level.

Behind every great half is another one who is able to just step up when needed, take the pressure off with a strong kicking game and keep opposition defensive lines guessing.

Their depth is also outstanding, with Michael Gordon and Ryley Jacks set to miss out.

Nathan Peats rounds out a solid-looking spine, and his passing game, as well as the defensive workload he is able to get through, is outstanding.

Backs
Anthony Don and Phillip Sami just about pick themselves on the wing. The improvement of Sami was clear for all to see throughout 2018, while Don is a prolific try-scorer and one of the best wingers in the competition – at both ends of the park.

Tyrone Peachey is also an obvious choice to grab the centre spot vacated, but who lines up on the other side of the park is a question.

Dale Copley has been a solid performer for the Titans, but you’d have to think a punt will be taken on the solid Brian Kelly, who has been strong during his time at Manly.

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Copley is just start of the depth picture, with others like Jesse Arthars, the likely to be overlooked Michael Gordon and Brenko Lee putting the pressure on for spots.

Forwards
It’s a big front row combination to get the Titans away in matches, with Queensland origin prop Jarrod Wallace set to be joined by recruit Shannon Boyd.

Both will want to lift their performances from last year, but at their best, are a scary combination with the rapidly improving Jai Arrow having a mortgage on lock.

With that being the case, Ryan James will again stick to an edge for the Titans, although could move into the middle third throughout games as a second-row heavy bench gets rotated. He starts there with Kiwi international Kevin Proctor.

As mentioned, Bryce Cartwright and Keegan Hipgrave will both be on the bench, alongside back-up hooker Mitch Rein and hard-hitting front rower Moeaki Fotuaika, who is another of their exciting young prospects.

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Bryce Cartwright

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

That leaves names like Will Matthews, Jack Stockwell, Max King, Jai Whitbread and Morgan Boyle out of the 17, so plenty of depth there.

Origin impact
There is every chance the Origin machine might catch up with the Titans this year, and while they have a reasonably comfortable fixture through that half of the year, they need their stars to be fresh come the end when they hit the road for a tough finish in what will ultimately be another closely run competition.

Tyrone Peachey is (at this point) almost a certain pick for the Blues, while Nathan Peats and Ryan James could also be in with a chance.

On the other side of the border, it’s be a shock to see Jai Arrow or Jarrod Wallace miss out.

Likely best 17
1. AJ Brimson
2. Anthony Don
3. Brian Kelly
4. Tyrone Peachey
5. Phillip Sami
6. Tyrone Roberts
7. Ashley Taylor
8. Jarrod Wallace
9. Nathan Peats
10. Shannon Boyd
11. Kevin Proctor
12. Ryan James
13. Jai Arrow
14. Mitch Rein
15. Moeaki Fotuaika
16. Keegan Hipgrave
17. Bryce Cartwright

Keys to the season

Can Bryce Cartwright get to his best?
It’s be fair to say Bryce Cartwright simply wasn’t the same player that he was at the Panthers throughout 2018.

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We have seen his incredible skill in multiple positions before heading to the Gold Coast. He had an ability to turn and win games for his club, but so bad was his form last year, he only made 14 appearances.

In that time, he scored just two tries, didn’t make a line break and only set two up, tackled with less than 85 per cent efficiency and averaged just 57 metres per game.

Those numbers make for very bleak reading, and yet, he is likely to get a spot on the bench this year, on reputation alone.

If he can get back to his best, then he becomes a really strong asset for the Titans, who need a game-changer like him in their ranks if they are to go to the finals.

It’ll be all about getting back to basics. Run the ball hard, tackle well, and things should start happening around him, such is his natural talent.

Tyrone Peachey and AJ Brimson are X-Factors
The Titans have two of the most exciting players in the game on their books this year, with the signing of Peachey and retention of Brimson.

Tyrone Peachey

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

I’ve already talked about Brimson, but he was so, so good last year. He had seven tries in 15 games, was able to lay on a few tries, force some dropouts, and defend excellently.

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It was his defence which stood out most after his move to fullback, but he is an irresistible selection for Brennan this year, and if that form continues, he will be hard to shut down no matter where he goes.

What adds so much to his game as a fullback, is his kicking game. Having that third option on the park makes life extremely tough for defenders.

Peachey too, was excellent at Penrith. His ability to play any position on the park has gained him plenty of admirers in the game, but centre seems to be where it’s at.

He was able to find the tryline plenty of times last year, but also has size and strength out wide which often makes life easier for his outside partner, and with good vision, there are few opportunities which go begging when he has his hands on the ball.

Ashley Taylor must finally unlock his potential
After coach Brennan all but said Taylor wasn’t ready for Origin during last season due to consistency issues, there is clear pressure on him to lead a team who many believe should be finals-bound in 2019.

Those same issues hung around during the second half of the year, and Taylor needs to live up to the staggering price on his contract.

He has the composure, kicking game, passing game, running game – he has it all – but it’s never all clicked for more than one or two games at a time.

As I mentioned earlier, Roberts being in the side alongside him should help thanks to a consistent kicking game, but it’s Taylor who must stand up over the next six months if the Titans are to go anywhere or do anything of significance.

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Ash Taylor

(Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

Fixtures

Round no. Date Time (AEDT) Opponent Venue TV
1 Sun Mar 17 6:10pm Canberra Raiders CBus Super Stadium Fox
2 Sat Mar 23 3pm Cronulla Sharks Shark Park Fox
3 Sun Mar 31 6:10pm South Sydney Rabbitohs ANZ Stadium Fox
4 Fri Apr 5 6pm New Zealand Warriors MT Smart Stadium Fox
5 Fri Apr 12 6pm Penrith Panthers CBus Super Stadium Fox
6 Sun Apr 21 2pm Newcastle Knights CBus Super Stadium Fox
7 Sat Apr 27 5:30pm Wests Tigers Scully Park, Tamworth Fox
8 Fri May 3 6pm North Queensland Cowboys 1300 Smiles Stadium Fox
9 Thu May 9 7:50pm Cronulla Sharks Suncorp Stadium Nine/Fox
10 Sat May 18 3pm Canterbury Bulldogs CBus Super Stadium Fox
11 Fri May 24 6pm Manly Sea Eagles Lottoland Fox
12 Sun Jun 2 4:05pm North Queensland Cowboys CBus Super Stadium Nine/Fox
13 Sun Jun 9 2pm Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium Fox
14 Fri Jun 14 6pm New Zealand Warriors CBus Super Stadium Fox
15 Sat Jun 29 3pm Manly Sea Eagles CBus Super Stadium Fox
17 Fri Jul 12 6pm Penrith Panthers Panthers Stadium Fox
18 Sun Jul 21 2pm Melbourne Storm CBus Super Stadium Fox
19 Sat Jul 27 5:30pm Brisbane Broncos CBus Super Stadium Fox
20 Sun Aug 4 2pm Sydney Roosters Sydney Cricket Ground Fox
21 Sat Aug 10 3pm St George Illawarra Dragons Jubilee Stadium Fox
22 Fri Aug 16 6pm Parramatta Eels CBus Super Stadium Fox
23 Sun Aug 25 2pm Melbourne Storm AAMI Park Fox
24 Sat Aug 31 3pm Newcastle Knights McDonald Jones Stadium Fox
25 Sat Sep 7 7:35pm St George Illawarra Dragons CBus Super Stadium Nine/Fox

The quick breakdown
Teams to play twice: Cronulla Sharks, St George Illawarra Dragons, New Zealand Warriors, North Queensland Cowboys, Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers, Newcastle Knights, Brisbane Broncos, Manly Sea Eagles
Best home run: Round 12 – Round 19 (5 out of 7)
Worst away run: Round 20 – Round 24 (4 out of 5)
Five-day turnarounds: 2

The draw has left the Titans with one of the tougher double-up lists in 2019. The Sharks, Knights and Warriors present something of an unknown, and while they’d be confident against Manly, the other five teams are not going to be help them with a double.

Their start to the season is pretty well balanced, and while the Raiders, Sharks and Warriors will present a solid challenge, facing the Rabbitohs early on will be the best time to do so under new coach Wayne Bennett.

They also have a strong run of home games through the middle of the season, where they play five out of seven at home, and one of their two away trips is to Brisbane, so with Origin creating some instability across the competition, that’s a period of the season where they will have to make hay while the sun shines.

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Their last six weeks of competition is unlikely to be easy though. They spend just two of those games at home, have two matches against the Dragons, one against the Roosters, and also play Melbourne in Melbourne, so they will want to be well and truly in the eight heading into that stretch if they are going to play finals footy in 2019.

Prediction

I see the Titans being a major challenger for the eight, and more than likely, spending a chunk of time in there throughout the season.

I’m not sure they will have the consistency and ability to fall into the finals this year, but it should be a much-improved season for a club with some impressive young talent on the books.

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Ninth.

From Monday, we will ramp the series up to every weekday in the lead-up to the NRL season. Next up, eighth place.

Full 2019 NRL season previews

16thParramatta Eels
15thCanberra Raiders
14thManly Sea Eagles
13thNew Zealand Warriors
12thCanterbury Bulldogs
11thCronulla Sharks
10thWests Tigers