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The indifferent shore: Rugby league on the Gold Coast (Part 2)

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Roar Guru
4 days ago
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What’s wrong with the Gold Coast? It’s a question that’s been asked a few times since the Gold Coast-Tweed Giants entered the New South Wales Rugby League in 1988.

In Part 1, I set out to answer the question of what’s wrong with the 2022 Titans by focusing on the strange and complicated history of top-flight rugby league in the region.

Today I look at the rise of the Gold Coast Chargers from the ashes of the Seagulls and compare where the Titans are at today to the fortunes of their predecessors. It’s by no means a comprehensive evaluation but history does provide some insight.

In August 1995, the Seagulls Leagues Club withdrew financial support from their eponymous rugby league team. It looked like top-flight league on the Gold Coast was finished. Turns out it was just the beginning of the strangest chapter yet.

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Charging into the breach: The Gold Coast Chargers, 1996-98
Were the Seagulls finished? While the leagues club had withdrawn financial support from the team, they still held the license.

In late 1995, the ARL entered negotiations with a group involving Brian Ray and Kerry Packer who were interested in taking over. But they would’ve taken things in a new direction and probably have inflicted further damage on the struggling leagues club.

Then in December, colourful Gold Coast property developer Jeff Muller entered the frame and immediately proclaimed that the Gold Coast would win the premiership in his first season at the helm.

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Alarm bells should’ve been – and probably were – going off everywhere, but Muller might’ve got the ARL out of a sticky situation if his finances, among other things, checked out.

Initially, the plan was for the Seagulls identity to continue, but Muller had other ideas. Naturally the leagues club objected and the ARL, having already granted Muller a license, belatedly realised that his finances were murky at best and that his erratic behaviour, including summoning the players to a training session on Christmas Day in 1995, was likely to be a problem.

It all ended up back in court. The leagues club eventually washed their hands of it, while the ARL managed to see off Muller and take control of the club.

The Chargers debuted as the Gold Coast Gladiators at the 1996 World Sevens. There was one problem: the Gladiators television program objected, and the name was changed to Chargers, apparently with the permission of their NFL namesake.

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With a hastily cobbled together roster, the Chargers struggled in 1996 and, inevitably, did so again in ’98, their only season in the NRL.

Gold Coast Chargers

(Photo by Getty Images)

The history of the Chargers is all about their wonderful run to the second week of the ARL finals in 1997. They beat the defending premiers Manly at Carrara in Round 21 and then beat Illawarra 25-14 at Parramatta Stadium in the club’s first finals match.

Looking back, the Chargers of ’97 were roughly what a team on the Gold Coast should be. They had a veteran forward leader in Queensland State of Origin representative Martin Bella. Big ‘Munster’ was quite a sight in the Chargers’ garish jade outfit.

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They had young Queensland forwards on the rise in Jeremy Schloss, Scott Sattler and noted pugilist Jamie Goddard.

Lismore’s Andrew King and Taree’s Wes Patten represented the other side of the border, while Inverell’s Preston Campbell was waiting in the wings and debuted in ‘98. They’d even looked further north, with Marcus Bai and Tom O’Reilly recruited from PNG.

It’s another case of what might’ve been. Inexplicably, the NRL introduced a team in Melbourne who were able to pick from the carcasses of the Super League casualties, while the Chargers were left to wither.

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Transformers: The Gold Coast Titans
The Titans are in a much better position than any of their predecessors. Their initial recruitment drive yielded former Charger Preston Campbell, Murwillumbah boy Anthony Laffranchi and Origin stars Scott Prince and Luke Bailey.

They play in a modern stadium at Robina, which has much better transport links to the rest of the Gold Coast than it once did.

Their preliminary final appearance in 2010 is easily the most significant achievement by any Gold Coast team.

They’ve even finished ahead of the Broncos the last couple of seasons and poached a star player, David Fifita, from them in 2021.

David Fifita

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

They have a crop of exciting youngsters, many of whom were developed by the club and who could conceivably be part of a contending team before too long.

Unlike the Giants and Seagulls, they’ve overcome financial and administrative instability and have been relatively stable under the ownership of former player Michael Searle and the consortium headed by businessman Darryl Kelly. However, there is currently some uncertainty about one of the club’s part owners.

Recent membership numbers for the Titans are unavailable and were trending down before the pandemic. It’s the same with crowd numbers. They’ve been mostly trending down since the Titans’ inception.

So, what’s going on here? My loose theory revolves around the club’s image.

I once met a Titans supporter. I exaggerate, I’ve met a few, but the available data indicates they’re becoming scarcer. The club is struggling to retain supporters and attract new ones.

If people in the Gold Coast region are largely indifferent about the Titans, if the players and coaches wander around their community without seeing and hearing much passionate expectation or even passionate derision, does it eventually resolve into indifference and ennui.

As mentioned in Part 1, I followed the Seagulls in my youth because they were close to home and something in their image appealed to me. While it wasn’t glamorous, it was authentic.

I still live close to the Gold Coast and have no affinity for the Titans. Their awful colour scheme and transparent attempt to piggy-back on a popular Hollywood movie franchise lost me. It probably lost older residents of the region – and there are quite a few – and it underestimates the younger brigade.

Titans fans cheer

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Generation Y are not all vapid social media addicts, liable to be distracted by shiny things. Many understand that the NRL is a small part of a long tradition and appreciate the history and aesthetic of the game.

A confected franchise with no discernible link to the game’s tradition in the Gold Coast-Tweed region might appeal to some but clearly isn’t winning many new supporters, old or young.

Everything about the Titans’ corporate image and on-field appearance is the Gold Coast of theme parks, the party strip and the gaudy marketing that goes with it.

There are probably people in the club’s marketing department who think that this should be the guiding theme.

Why? They forget that there are people who actually live and have roots in the region. They see the superficiality and evanescence of the Gold Coast every day.

Prospective supporters might respond to something different; something that at least appears more permanent and rooted in tradition.

Trouble is, this is the sort of thinking that brought you the Giants and Seagulls. But those teams didn’t fail because they had great jerseys and sought to reflect their forebears. They failed because they were ill-conceived and unstable ventures run by the wrong people.

The Titans can afford to do something about their terrible line speed and attacking direction and reevaluate their target demographic and public image while they’re at it.

Be different, Titans.

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