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The Roar’s 2020 NRL preview series: Rounding out the bottom four

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25th February, 2020
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With the predicted bottom two revealed on Monday, today, The Roar’s NRL preview series moves onto those teams forecast to be joining them in the bottom four.

14. Gold Coast Titans

While some may be surprised to see the Titans avoid another wooden spoon, there are reasons for fans to be optimistic.

There can be no disputing just how bad 2019 was for the Gold Coast. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, from the moment the first ball was kicked in anger, to the moment their final game ended.

A wooden spoon, in the end, was really the only way it was going from about two months into the season.

While their skipper and one of the key forwards will miss the season again with injury, a new coach in Justin Holbrook and hopefully a fresh outlook from Ashley Taylor, who struggled badly, could see some improvement.

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There also some talented names in the side who have yet to hit their potential, with the exciting AJ Brimson leading that charge.

On top of that, players like Jai Arrow and the experienced Tyrone Roberts will give them some guidance and direction, which should steer them away from the spoon.

Squad

Ryan James (c), Tyrone Roberts (c), Jai Arrow, Shannon Boyd, Tanah Boyd, AJ Brimson, Bryce Cartwright, Erin Clark, Dale Copley, Anthony Don, Darius Farmer, Beau Fermor, Moeaki Fotuaika, Keegan Hipgrave, Brian Kelly, Greg Leleisiuao, Tyrone Peachey, Jonus Pearson, Nathan Peats, Kevin Proctor, Mitch Rein, Phillip Sami, Treymain Spry, Sam Stone, Ashley Taylor, Jarrod Wallace, Kallum Watkins, Jai Whitbread

Development players: Juwan Compain, Kea Pere, Ioane Seiuli, Toby Sexton

Coach: Justin Holbrook
Co-captains: Ryan James, Tyrone Roberts

Ins: Tanah Boyd (Brisbane Broncos), Erin Clark (New Zealand Warriors), Greg Leleisiuao (Parramatta Eels), Beau Fermor (Newcastle Knights), Jonus Pearson (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sam Stone (Newcastle Knights mid 2019), Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos mid 2019), Treymain Spry (Tweed Heads Seagulls)

Outs: Jesse Arthars (Brisbane Broncos), Morgan Boyle (Manly Sea Eagles mid 2019), Michael Gordon (retired), Ryley Jacks (Melbourne Storm), Max King (Melbourne Storm mid 2019), Leilani Latu (Warrington Wolves) Brenko Lee (Melbourne Storm), Will Matthews (retired), Jack Stockwell (Burleigh Bears)

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

Jai Arrow of the Gold Coast Titans sits on the bench

Jai Arrow (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Team overview
With Ryan James set to miss the season, the front row positions go to Moeaki Fotuaika and Jarrod Wallace, while Jai Arrow lines up at lock after being denied an early release.

Bryce Cartwright’s spot in the second row is up in the air though, with Keegan Hipgrave pushing for that berth.

The backline is more settled, although a lot is riding on Ash Taylor’s performances. He lines up in the halves alongside Roberts, allowing Brimson to play fullback, with Michael Gordon calling time on his career and Jesse Arthars departing to Brisbane in one of the stranger off-season moves.

Anthony Don and Phillip Sami will almost certainly start on the wings, while Brian Kelly and Dale Copley will put pressure on Englishman Kallum Watkins and Tyrone Peachey in the centres, with that being their best position by the length of the straight.

Strengths
Even with the injury to James, the Titans go-forward in the middle third should still be strong.

In the skipper’s absence last year, the club unearthed a gem in Fotuaika, who complements the style of Arrow and Wallace with his hard running and big hits.

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If the Titans are going to out-do expectations, they need to be able to build a platform for Taylor, and that starts through Fotuaika and Wallace.

Brimson should also develop into a strength, with the young fullback finally locking a position down this year. One of the most talented juniors in the game, Brimson went from halves, to fullback, to bench and back again throughout last season, making it impossible for him to settle into a role.

If they are to succeed, Taylor also has to have a huge season, his kicking game being pivotal, and a lot of that could come from the fresh start the club have under Holbrook.

Weaknesses
Defence is the most logical spot to begin. There were times throughout last season where the Gold Coast simply shut down, looking like they’d prefer to be anywhere else.

By the time it was all said and done, they had let in a staggering 651 point – 80 more than their closest rivals.

It hammers home the point that Holbrook must have an impact on the battling club.

There is also a perceived weakness in the second row, where Kevin Proctor has never been the player he was at Melbourne, and Cartwright or Keegan Hipgrave just aren’t up to this level consistently.

That comes back to impact their point scoring, and the level of confidence Roberts and Taylor can muster in the halves.

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Ash Taylor

Ash Taylor. (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

Fixture breakdown

Round Date Time Opponent Venue TV
1 Fri Mar 13 6pm Canberra Raiders GIO Stadium Fox
2 Sun Mar 22 6:15pm Parramatta Eels CBus Super Stadium Fox
3 Sun Mar 29 6:15pm Brisbane Broncos CBus Super Stadium Fox
4 Sun Apr 5 6:15pm Sydney Roosters Sydney Cricket Ground Fox
5 Sat Apr 11 5:30pm Melbourne Storm AAMI Park Fox
6 Fri Apr 17 6pm Manly Sea Eagles Lottoland Fox
7 Fri Apr 24 6pm Wests Tigers CBus Super Stadium Fox
8 Sun May 3 6:25pm Penrith Panthers Suncorp Stadium Fox
9 Sat May 9 7:35pm North Queensland Cowboys North Queensland Stadium Fox
10 Sat May 16 3pm New Zealand Warriors CBus Super Stadium Fox
11 Fri May 22 6pm St George Illawarra Dragons Jubilee Stadium Fox
12 Thu May 28 7:50pm Canterbury Bulldogs CBus Super Stadium Nine/Fox
13 Fri Jun 5 7:55pm Cronulla Sharks Jubilee Stadium Nine/Fox
14 Fri Jun 12 6pm North Queensland Cowboys CBus Super Stadium Fox
15 Sun Jun 28 2:05pm Newcastle Knights McDonald Jones Stadium Fox
16 Bye
17 Sat Jul 11 3pm Melbourne Storm CBus Super Stadium Fox
18 Fri Jul 17 6pm New Zealand Warriors Mt Smart Stadium Fox
19 Fri Jul 24 6pm Penrith Panthers Panthers Stadium Fox
20 Sat Aug 1 3pm St George Illawarra Dragons CBus Super Stadium Fox
21 Sat Aug 8 3pm South Sydney Rabbitohs CBus Super Stadium Fox
22 Sun Aug 16 2:05pm Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium Fox
23 Sun Aug 23 2:05pm Wests Tigers Campbelltown Stadium Fox
24 Sun Aug 30 2:05pm Canberra Raiders CBus Super Stadium Fox
25 Sun Sep 5 5:30pm Manly Sea Eagles CBus Super Stadium Fox

Teams to play twice: North Queensland Cowboys, Melbourne Storm, New Zealand Warriors, St George Illawarra Dragons, Brisbane Broncos, Wests Tigers, Canberra Raiders, Manly Sea Eagles
Five-day turnarounds: 0
Seven plus day turnarounds: 17
Best home run: Round 20 – 25 (4 out of 6)
Worst away run: Round 4 – 6 (3 out of 3)

We are going to get a good idea where the Titans are at early, as they kick-off against last year’s grand finalists the Raiders, followed by one of this year’s favourites, the Eels.

A home game against Brisbane follows, before they hit the road to play the Roosters, Storm and Sea Eagles in one of the more demanding runs all season.

The list of teams to play twice isn’t horrendous, with both Queensland teams and the Tigers, Dragons and Warriors who all finished outside the eight last year.

They also finish with four of their final six at home, which should give them a kick if they are anywhere near the finals, as difficult as it is to see that happening.

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13. Canterbury Bulldogs

For so long, it’s been either love or hate the Bulldogs, but they slowly worked their way into the hearts and minds of rugby league fans last year as a team who worked ridiculously hard for everything they got.

It won’t result in a premiership, but after some of the worst salary cap mismanagement in history, the rebuild is underway.

13th may not seem like there will be much improvement, but it’ll only be a lack of points which keep them at this end of the table, rather than a lack of effort.

Throughout the second half of the season, even with finals chances long gone, there were some inspiring performances from the Dogs, with one in particular against Penrith springing to mind.

Just how far they can go in 2020 is up for debate, with some changes in personnel on the field and rapidly improving youngsters at the club.

Squad

Josh Jackson (c), Jake Averillo, Dean Britt, Fa’amanu Brown, Jack Cogger, Christian Crichton, Adam Elliott, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Kieran Foran, Corey Harawira-Naera, Morgan Harper, Kerrod Holland, Will Hopoate, Sione Katoa, Lachlan Lewis, Jeremy Marshall-King, Nick Meaney, Marcelo Montoya, Dylan Napa, Ofahiki Ogden, Jayden Okunbor, Chris Smith, Reimis Smith, Joe Stimson, Sauaso Sue, Isaiah Tass, Renouf To’omaga, Aiden Tolman, Brandon Wakeham, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

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Development players: Matt Doorey, Tyrone Harding, Tui Katoa, James Roumanos, Sebastian Winters-Chang

Coach: Dean Pay
Captain: Josh Jackson

Ins: Dean Britt (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers), Joe Stimson (Melbourne Storm), Isaiah Tass (development), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers mid 2019)

Outs: Danny Fualalo (released), Michael Lichaa (released), Rhyse Martin (Leds Rhinos), John Olive (released), Zac Saddler (Manly Sea Eagles), Francis Tualau (Wynnum Manly Seagulls)

The best 17
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
2. Reimis Smith
3. Will Hopoate
4. Kerrod Holland
5. Jayden Okunbor
6. Brandon Wakeham
7. Lachlan Lewis
8. Aiden Tolman
9. Jeremy Marshall-King
10. Dylan Napa
11. Joe Stimson
12. Josh Jackson
13. Adam Elliott
Interchange
14. Renouf To’omaga
15. Corey Harawira-Naera
16. Raymond Faitala-Mariner
17. Fa’amanu Brown

Team overview
The broom has not been put through Belmore, but Michael Lichaa and Danny Fualalo’s departures are timely, while the arrival of Joe Stimson, Dean Britt and Sione Katoa will add to the side.

Stimson is the only one of the trio guaranteed a spot in Round 1, although it could be yet from the pine, with Corey Harawira-Naera in the reckoning to start.

Britt and Katoa could both grab bench spots, with Katoa likely in the utility position. Others who could line up from the bench include Ofahiki Ogden and Sauaso Sue, indicating healthy competition for spots.

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Brandon Wakeham is likely to play in the halves alongside Lachlan Lewis, beating out Jack Cogger, while the rest of the side seems relatively settled, with only Kerrod Holland and Jayden Okunbor’s spots up for grabs in the backline against the likes of Christian Crichton, Nick Meaney and Marcelo Montoya.

Strengths
Grit and determination. It didn’t seem to matter who pulled on a blue and white jumper at the back end of last year, they’d defend like their careers depended on it.

And to be fair, it may well have, with the club doing plenty of chopping and changing in the off-season.

Dean Pay must continue to make this a focus for his side while they continue to work at their attack, which is going to take time to get right.

The second row is their other area of strength. Josh Jackson has never let a man down, while Stimson arrives from Melbourne and will do well to take a spot ahead of the dangerous Harawira-Naera.

Playing inside the likes of Hopoate, Okunbor and the speedster Smith, watch for the Bulldogs to be dangerous if they can get good ball out wide early on.

Josh Jackson

Josh Jackson (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Weaknesses
As much as their attack could be a strength, the long-term injury to Kieran Foran won’t help matters.

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Lewis will take one spot in the halves, and while he is improving, his raw ability to generate points outside of a good kicking game still leaves plenty to be desired. Only five try assists in 24 games last year goes to show just that, but his kicking game – averaging 350 metres per game – got Canterbury out of some tough spots.

Next to him, will either be Cogger, who hasn’t adapted to the pace of the NRL yet, or more likely, Wakeham. The exciting youngster impressed for Fiji last year to the point of being a Golden Boot nominee.

Jeremy Marshall-King and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak round out the spine, and while there will be moments of excellence, it’s not going to be consistently creating points, with the Bulldogs only scoring 326 last year, finishing last.

Fixture breakdown

Round Date Time Opponent Venue TV
1 Thu Mar 12 8:05pm Parramatta Eels Bankwest Stadium Nine/Fox
2 Thu Mar 19 8:05pm North Queensland Cowboys ANZ Stadium Nine/Fox
3 Sun Mar 29 4:05pm Wests Tigers Campbelltown Stadium Nine/Fox
4 Sat Apr 4 5:30pm Cronulla Sharks ANZ Stadium Fox
5 Fri Apr 10 4:05pm South Sydney Rabbitohs ANZ Stadium Nine/Fox
6 Sat Apr 18 7:35pm Parramatta Eels ANZ Stadium Fox
7 Sat Apr 25 6pm North Queensland Cowboys North Queensland Stadium Fox
8 Sat May 2 5:30pm Canberra Raiders Suncorp Stadium Fox
9 Fri May 8 6pm New Zealand Warriors Mt Smart Sadium Fox
10 Fri May 15 6pm Manly Sea Eagles Belmore Sports Ground Fox
11 Thu May 21 7:50pm Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium Nine/Fox
12 Thu May 28 7:50pm Gold Coast Titans CBus Super Stadium Fox
13 Mon Jun 8 4:05pm St George Illawarra Dragons ANZ Stadium Fox
14 Sat Jun 13 3pm Manly Sea Eagles Lottoland Fox
15 Sat Jun 27 5:30pm South Sydney Rabbitohs ANZ Stadium Fox
Bye
17 Fri Jul 10 7:55pm New Zealand Warriors Bankwest Stadium Nine/Fox
18 Sat Jul 18 7:35pm Melbourne Storm HBF Park Nine/Fox
19 Sat Jul 25 3pm Sydney Roosters Sydney Cricket Ground Fox
20 Sat Aug 1 5:30pm Newcastle Knights Bankwest Stadium Fox
21 Fri Aug 7 6pm Cronulla Sharks Jubilee Oval Fox
22 Sat Aug 15 7:35pm St George Illawarra Dragons WIN Stadium Nine/Fox
23 Sun Aug 23 4:05pm Penrith Panthers Bankwest Stadium Nine/Fox
24 Sat Aug 29 3pm Wests Tigers Bankwest Stadium Fox
25 Sun Sep 6 2:05pm Newcastle Knights McDonald Jones Stadium Fox

Teams to play twice: Teams to play twice: Parramatta Eels, North Queensland Cowboys, Manly Sea Eagles, South Sydney Rabbitohs, New Zealand Warriors, Cronulla Sharks, St George Illawarra Dragons, Wests Tigers, Newcastle Knights
Five-day turnarounds: 1
Seven plus day turnarounds: 16
Best home run: Round 13 – Round 24 (7 out of 11)
Worst away run: Round 7 – 12 (4 out of 6) incl. Magic Round

Why Canterbury will play a Back to Belmore game at 6pm on a Friday is anyone’s guess, but otherwise, their fixture looks balanced, even taking into account the loss of the soulless giant at Homebush halfway through the season.

They also have a mountain of big games – season opener, Good Friday, Anzac Day, Queen’s Birthday – whether the young side can handle occasions or not will prove pivotal.

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They have drawn well in terms of which teams to play twice though, with the Cowboys, Warriors, Dragons, Tigers and Knights all included, while they avoid the Roosters, Storm and Raiders.

Further to that, they will play seven of 11 on home grounds between Round 13 and 24 and only leave Sydney once in that period, which should allow them to build momentum.

They do, however, have a difficult run between Rounds 7 and 12, where they play two games in Brisbane, one in Townville, Auckland and the Gold Coast in a six-week period.

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The ladder so far

13. Canterbury Bulldogs
14. Gold Coast Titans
15. New Zealand Warriors
16. Wests Tigers

The preview series will continue on Friday with the predicted 12th and 11th place.

Part 1: The bottom two