So there’s this Gary Larson cartoon in which a well-fed gorilla says to another gorilla: “You know, Sid, I really like bananas… I mean, I know that’s not profound or nothin’… Heck! We ALL do… But for me I think it goes much more beyond that.”
For the Gold Coast Titans, winning is that banana. It’s not profound or nothin’ to say that Gold Coast want to win.
Heck, all the gorillas in the NRL do. But there’s context for the Titans.
They also need to win.
It’s time. For themselves, for their people.
Winning is their entire organisation’s raison d’etre.
And not just games, the club wants to win everything: sponsors, community, ratings.
The players want to win weights sessions. They want to win at breakfast. They want to win at going out at night.
They didn’t do a great deal of winning in 2018 and nor did they do much in 2017. In 2016, they won 11 and lost 11, and were belted by Broncos first week of finals.
This year? Not a lot of winning.
And thus their brand upon the Gold Coast and elsewhere has been… what’s that term the kids use in memes?
The Titans have been a bit sort of… meh.
Well, bottom line: they’re not very good.
Scratch that – they’re not bad. They’re not terrible.
They’re just not, well, good. They don’t know how to win. To close out games. To grab the throat of an enemy and crush his larynx with a sandled foot.
Off the field, they’re flying.
They’re out of administration and new owners are pumping in coin with no desire for financial return. Sponsors are signed up for two and more years. Their jumper and polo shirts are like the yellow pages.
Mal Meninga is overseeing culture while an executive chairman, Dennis Watt – the man who turned the Broncos into a powerhouse and cleaned up the Storm after scandal – oversaw the sale of the Titans to that rarest of beasts, philanthropic property developers.
On the playing list there’s young ones, new ones and old ones. And hot ones. Rep players. Origin players.
The backline’s got X-factor – Tyrone Peachey, Origin player – and speed – Brian Kelly.
Kelly’s come from Brookvale. In a sport of speedsters, he’s got a little bit of true gas.
Peachey is a huge in. He won a wrestling thing – the ‘King of the Ring’ – in the gym. Rangy strong, he bested many big units. Man can do anything. Freddy Fittler’s spirit animal.
Indeed, he’s close to your favourite player, the Peach. Club can build a club around a talisman, a cult hero. Peach would shrug, tell you it’s bullshit.
But there it is.
Ryley Jacks and Tyrone Roberts have come home from Melbourne and Warrington. Neither played last night.
Yet Ash Taylor has a surfeit of partners in the halves – even competition.
Shannon Boyd, international player, is another big in, the big yin. They took him to the beach to show it off, he said, “Don’t bother me with that, I’ll never set foot on it. Where can I buy a farm?”
They took him to the hinterland. Now he lives on 11 acres with horses and dogs.
Jai Arrow – Origin player – you’ll get 70 minutes from the breakout.
Nathan Peats – Origin player – will play long minutes before handing over to Mitch Rein, fringe Origin player.
Fullback AJ Brimson is the poor man’s Kalyn Ponga, if you’re going there.
Jarrod Wallace – Origin player – fit as he’s ever been.
Dale Copley and Brenko Lee are among four blokes who can play centre. Jacks has come from the Storm factory.
Kevin Proctor, international player, did too, he hasn’t shrunk any. Ryan James is fit as he’s ever been and a cusp Origin player.
Indeed there’s an Origin look to their pack.
So why are they bad? Or at least not that – you know – good?
Before the smoke had cleared at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night, the Titans had knocked on off the kick-off and were a fingernail from giving up a try.
Josh Morris ran through them like old man river. He outpointed Kelly in all facets.
The Titans’ first try came from a pass so poor it cut out four men and outflanked the Sharks by skidding off the deck into Dale Copley’s arms.
Brimson’s try came from a dud pass by Cronulla and a 40-metre scoot.
Otherwise they threw it around and did their best.
“They’re an all or nothing team,” observed Andrew Johns. “If it sticks they can win by 20. If not they can lose by 30.
“I get the feeling the second half is going to be entertaining.”
Ask Garth Brennan what Titans footy should look like under him and he’ll tell you he wants to entertain.
“We’re in the entertainment business!” he says.
They train with intensity in defence. Watch their training, it’s physical, semi-opposed, hard.
They’re not expression sessions – they are about “shape”.
They practice a kicking game that pins the other mob deep, and then attacks in defence. Not the mad science of Scientology, but rip it off and it can be brutally effective.
But there is the rub.
Doing it, a lot.
Like the Raiders for the last 25 years, Gold Coast’s natural attack can get them into a lead. It’s then they need play-makers to close down games, pin the opposition deep. And send in the beasts to smash them.
The champion sevens – your Thurstons and Cronks – do it by rote.
Taylor and Brimson are not those people.
Peachey should be closer to the ball, a running five-eighth to complement Taylor’s ball play.
Taylor, too, should run more. Create uncertainty in lumbering pigs.
Brimson’s either your fullback or utility. Mickey Gordon’s in there somewhere. He’s three years older than Morris.
Top fella to have around the club. A hard man. Soft tissue injuries waiting to happen.
Taylor’s performance behind this Origin-strong forward pack is one of the greater subtexts of the season.
He turned 24 the day the club lost to Canberra in Round 1.
New contract, big money, heightened expectation. The Titans lost a slew of close games in 2018.
They led in 16 of 24 matches, won only eight. They couldn’t get it done at the death. Couldn’t close.
And they know it’s on the No.7 to own that. The big units can do only so much.
Taylor’s under the pump. His time is now.
He owns this loss much as anyone. Especially given the Sharks lost Andrew Fifita after six minutes and Matt Prior lasted 19 minutes. Taylor couldn’t attack those tired leftovers?
Five minutes to half-time they converted field position and possession. Rein’s service was crisp. Taylor grubbered behind the D-line. Peachey, one away from him, fell on it.
Somehow the Titans led by eight at half-time.
Kelly knocked on. Gave away a penalty on Morris. The veteran had a blinder, gave the boy a bath.
Taylor threw a punch at Josh Dugan. Would’ve been better teasing his haircut, a terrible creature, roadkill racoon.
Aaron Gray scored a double, a chunky man. Chad Townsend was super.
Gordon knocked on. Kelly pumped a grubber dead. Had a shocker, Bri.
Peachey copped a whack in the chops, gave up a penalty. Kyle Flanagan – who’d chunked it all night – drilled the two points.
Peachey put the ball into touch when play was required. Outside his try, the marquee man was poor.
And after Paul Gallen rolled over near the posts and converted the Titans knew ignominy. And trudged off knowing that, as a unit, they’d found another way to choke on the banana.