On Saturday afternoon, the Gold Coast Titans’ 2021 season came to an end at the hands of the Sydney Roosters, who managed to hold on to win by 25-24.
It was an unbelievable match.
The Roosters seemed to do everything in their power to lose the game and the Titans weren’t quite good enough to take advantage of that.
There was no better example of this than the final play of the game where the Titans managed to make their way down the field via a Beau Fermor break.
A couple of plays later, Patrick Herbert opted to go himself rather than offloading to David Fifita despite an overlap. There was then an attempted flick pass by Herbert to Corey Thompson, which rolled into touch.
In the aftermath of that play, it sounded like Thompson was screaming almost what we were all thinking.
I feel deeply sorry for Herbert in this moment, but also recognise that these are the opportunities you need to take if you are going to win finals matches.
There were several times in the lead-up to the play where the Titans just took the wrong option: Herbert opting not to take the tackle, Herbert opting to flick it over the sideline rather than in the other direction, Fermor and Phillip Sami seeming to get their wires crossed and almost bumping into each other when Fermor made the break.
That loss will hurt the Titans and it ends a successful season for them.
But just how successful? Does their season deserve a pass mark? Particularly when you consider they were one of the only teams that did not have to permanently relocate this year and were able to still play games at their home ground.
The Titans finished in the top eight and played finals footy for the first time since 2016. That is a significant achievement, despite finishing the season with a 10-14 win-loss record and only managing to beat one team above them on the ladder (a win over the Newcastle Knights in Round 5).
Interestingly, last year the Titans did the same, but finished ninth.
But that’s the thing about making the top eight. If you finish in eighth position, you are the mid-point in the ladder. It makes sense that you are average.
Gold Coast generally managed to beat the teams below them and found themselves in a position where they made the top eight.
Despite playing finals footy, I can’t help feeling like they have underachieved this season and haven’t progressed much further than where they finished in 2020.
Many pundits had them firmly placed in their top eights at the start of the year, partly due to recruitment, which saw both David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui join the club. In particular, Fifita did so on big coin.
While Fifita was impressive this year, I expected more of him given his size, athleticism and talent.
In recent weeks the decision was made to play Fifita off the bench. I struggle to understand why given the immediate impact he has when he comes onto the field.
The key for this team next year will be learning to work together as a team and challenging Fifita to increase his involvement.
At the moment, there are plenty of good individual players who have been able to get the Titans’ results when needed; players like Jayden Campbell, AJ Brimson, Herbert, Thompson, Fa’asuamaleaui and Fifita. The Titans’ wins do not seem to come off the back of a cohesive team effort and this is problematic.
This is a good team of individual performers that struggles to put together complete performances on a consistent basis.
Additionally, they are a team that tend to do well when they get a roll on, but struggle when play does not go their way.
I recall the game against the Manly Sea Eagles where the final score was 56-24 and the Titans did not touch the ball for 15 minutes in the second half.
A number of performances this year have made me question the resilience of the team, particularly when you compare them to the more resilient teams in the competition like the Roosters, who no matter how much their backs are against the wall, just continue to compete.
This suggests a lack of leadership in the playing group.
To make the top eight next year, these things will need to change and I wonder whether as many pundits will be as keen to put the Titans into their top eight next year?
It’s certainly going to be a different looking team with Ash Taylor, Tyrone Peachey and Mitch Rein being among six players being let go by the club. This seems to suggest that the likes of Toby Sexton are the future of this club.
Even with those departures, the Titans still have the talent, but whether this team can take the next step remains to be seen.