The Gold Coast Titans woes have continued with another comprehensive defeat, this time losing 32-6 to the North Queensland Cowboys.
Three tries in seven minutes late in the first half was a killer for coach Justin Holbrook, particularly the poor levels of execution in defence that allowed for several eminently preventable scores.
Holbrook must now be wondering where he can take this team after another week of poor defending – the tackling was horrendous and has barely improved in 18 months.
“It’s the ability to defend,” he said. “We’re going to be put in that position, we have to fight our way out and we didn’t do that.
“We’ve got to keep getting on with it and stretch those periods that we are playing well for longer.
“We can’t have the bad periods like we’re doing at the moment. We’ve been doing that for a long time and it’s killing us.
“It’s not so much about players, it’s about competing harder.”
The Titans have now lost eight from nine, and despite facing a Cowboys team without three key players due to Origin commitments, they were well beaten.
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui was the only major Origin out for the Gold Coast, though they lost star fullback Jayden Campbell to a hamstring injury.
Like last week in Brisbane, they started solidly and got ahead, but produced a series of simple errors on their goal line that left them with far too much to do.
“Once again, we were ready to go,” said Holbrook. “We started well, probably missed a couple of chances ourselves and then the minute we make a few errors, suddenly it’s 16-6 at half time.
“We need to be better at keeping it at 6-all. We either need to not make the error to start with or if we’re going to make it, defend it.
“That’s what we’re not doing, that’s why we’re here with the score what it is.
“We started the second half well, compete for 20 minutes and then the minute they get one, instead of that being 12-6 it’s now 22-6 and we’re chasing the game again.
“When you’re playing well, like the opposition are, it comes. We’re falling short in a lot of areas and it’s ended up a big scoreline against us.”
The stats told the story of a relatively close game – both teams went well in terms of errors, completions and missed tackles – but the where and when were the crucial difference: the Titans conceded three tries that, at this level, are unforgivable.
The Cowboys were thankful to have Scott Drinkwater in their ranks – the fullback had three try assists and 193 metres running – and Jason Taumalolo, who marked his return with 184 metres and five tackle busts.
“We’ve had a really good week, everyone was really excited about those boys getting selected for Origin and deservedly so,” said Todd Payten.
“The guys coming in were excited for their opportunity. We spoke through the week about putting the focus on us off the back of last week.
“We still coughed up too much ball in both halves and had to do it the hard way, which highlights that our D system is working well, that everyone understands it and believes in it, and how fit they are.
“We’re a young, athletic team and I’d just like us to be a bit smarter at times.”
The Gold Coast, just like last week, came flying out of the traps. They might well have scored via AJ Brimson, who passed with the line begging, unaware that he was through.
Soon after, he made that redundant with an inside ball that put Toby Sexton over for the first. By this point, the Cowboys had barely touched the ball and the Titans were totally dominant.
That continued. Jayden Campbell went close to gathering a kick from Brian Kelly, and when the Cowboys did get the football, they were clunky: Tom Gilbert was caught on the last in the first good ball situation after a highly ponderous set of six.
The Gold Coast collapse, however, was imminent. It took until half time to arrive last week but came early this time around, and in typically disastrous fashion.
Heilum Luki stood in a tackle and was able to bat away a powderpuff attempt from Campbell to stop him, getting North Queensland on the board.
Campbell’s defence was questionable again for the next, as the young fullback was scattered by a rampaging Murray Taulagi in the left corner.
As if to emphasise the air of capitulation, Jamayne Isaako lost the ball in a tackle and presented Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow with the easiest four points of his career.
After 25 minutes of dominating field position and territory, the Titans had conceded three tries to trail 16-6 at the break.
The Titans’ start to the second half could have continued their self-destructive streak. Campbell threw an intercept to Taulagi, who fed Tabuai-Fidow. Only a solid scramble stopped the lead blowing out further.
North Queensland might well have finished it themselves, too, only for Reece Robson to spill a pass from Chad Townsend with the path to the line clear in front of him.
The Cowboys’ defence was always likely to see them home, however, and save for one close call from Tanah Boyd, the second half was relatively simple for the visitors.
They would have a chance to put gloss on the scoreline late on. Robson stepped through more pitiful tackling, Tabuai-Fidow tapped down a kick and, as a coup de grace, Jake Granville drew three tacklers and dropped Peta Hiku inside for the final score.
The image of three men going to one attacker, with another two en route, only to be bypassed by one simple pass seemed quite an emblematic end to another miserable night for the Gold Coast.