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Des despondent as 'inexcusable' Titans battered by Dolphins - but should hip-drop have been a send-off?

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30th March, 2024
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It was billed as a meeting of two of the great coaches of our time; Wayne Bennett against Des Hasler. Between them, they’ve coached 1375 matches of elite footy, and 31 times against each other.

This might not go down as the best of them, but Bennett won’t care. His Dolphins ran out relatively comfortable 30-14 victors, conceding the first two but scoring five in a row to secure a result against the Titans that lays bear the difference between the sides.

Redcliffe are well structured, compete hard and work off the back of that. The Titans, on the other hand, seem to have their priorities the other way around.

Des Hasler copped a severe reminder of what needs to change in losing 32-0 to the Bulldogs last week, when they were miles off it in every department.

This was, if anything, more of a wake-up call. It was chemically pure Titans footy of the kind that seems resistant to any form of coaching change: occasionally very good, mostly very bad, with no real rhyme or reason for any of it.

The Gold Coast welcomed back David Fifita, who might be in trouble after being put on report for a trip, but no amount of star power changes a fundamental inability to stick with any gameplan for 80 minutes.

Most irritatingly, the game was there to be taken in the first half.

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Max Plath was binned in the 27th minute with the Titans winning 10-6, offering the perfect chance to kick on before the break. Instead, they meandered and, just before the siren, conceded to go in behind.

“You could copy and paste last week,” said Hasler.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 30: Kieran Foran of the Titans is tackled during the round four NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and Dolphins at Cbus Super Stadium, on March 30, 2024, in Gold Coast, Australia.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“We’re not putting two halves together, we’re not executing well.

“I thought the first half we had a great opportunity to put them to the sword when they went one to the sin bin, but we came up with three dropped balls, two on play one and one on play three, and a leg-up penalty, so we just can’t build any pressure.

“We’re not good enough yet. We’re still growing. Defensively we need to not put so much pressure (on ourselves) and it’s all to do with our attack. I thought we had a good shape today but it’s inexcusable where we’re turning over possession.

“I could line up the excuses in a list this long, but what’s the point? There’s enough there that we’re showing, we just have to get better at it. We start well, build some good platforms and then give it all way. And it’s not going to get any easier.”

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Plath will have a case to answer at the judiciary and is facing a decent spell on the sidelines. His tackle on Philip Sami was as obvious a hip-drop as they come and he was lucky not to be marched permanently.

“It’s a difficult area, the hip-drop,” said Bennett. “Max Plath hasn’t got a dirty bone in his body so it was never intentional. We don’t coach it, we don’t talk about it, we don’t practice anything like that. If it’s gone wrong it’s gone wrong and we’ll just have to pay the consequences.

The Titans winger was down for a lengthy period but finished the game, grabbing a late consolation in the process, but was only able to watch on as the Dolphins kicked into gear.

They got two excellent moments out of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Herbie Farnworth, a solid level of kick-and-control from Isaiya Katoa and some decent finishing from winger Jack Bostock, all plenty good enough to get over this Titans side.

Entertainment came second, but Bennett won’t care. His side are top of the live ladder and will move on.

Styles make fights

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Last year, the Dolphins and Titans were at opposing ends of an efficiency spectrum.

Redcliffe weren’t great on paper, but largely maximised what they had to overachieve, albeit while taking a few licks along the way.

The Gold Coast had all the bits to be good but did everything to squander them, save for the occasional irritating performance to make you remember that, yes, they could actually do it sometimes.

Though plenty has changed on and off the field in the interim, this played out in much the same way.

The Titans started alright and stuck on two decent tries, but flattered to deceive thereafter, whereas the Dolphins maintained at roughly the same pace throughout, eventually running them down and cashing in.

It wasn’t quite the collapse of last year, but the Titans managed to go ten ahead and then let in the next four tries, despite getting ten minutes against 12 men when Plath was binned.

Redcliffe’s general tactic hasn’t gone anywhere, and remains both limiting against good teams and empowering against bad ones.

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They play very conservatively, only pushing the envelope in good ball, but now have more and more quality to make that count.

Tabuai-Fidow’s assist for Jack Bostock, Farnworth’s pass to Jamayne Isaako for his own try and Tom Flegler’s charge for the Hammer to score were all little bits of quality that stood out, sprinkled on top of a mountain on unflashy work.

It’s a good policy, and one that will see the Dolphins win a lot of bad games, which will make Bennett happy and buy them time until the whole team is better.

The Titans, however, can sign as many good players as they want and change the coach as many times as they want but until they start putting the cart in front of the horse as far as effort and strategy are concerned, there’ll be a lot of nights like this.

When is a hip-drop a send off?

The Dolphins deserved their win, but there was a major moment in the first half that could have seen the game chance entirely.

Plath’s hip-drop on Sami was a textbook example of the genre and, while nobody premeditates that type of tackle, it would be hard to imagine that a professional rugby league players doesn’t know what they’re doing at that moment.

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Given the total lack of mitigating factors, it does bring into question when a hip-drop is sufficiently bad to merit a send off.

The NRL wants the tackle out of the game. It’s only ever dangerous. The binning is fine, but realistically, if there ever was going to be a send off for it, it would have been tonight.

Belinda Sharpe, the referee, called it on field immediately but then deferred to the Bunker on sentencing given their myriad angles and replays.

There’s been a focus on it after Jack Wighton’s non-penalty on Jacob Preston yesterday, when he went through the motions but, luckily for all concerned, didn’t actually touch the Bulldogs man after swinging around the legs.

Think of this the other way around: if someone swings a punch, it won’t matter if they connect or not in the sentencing. Attempted striking and striking are the same thing.

Wighton got away with his because he didn’t connect with Preston. Plath was punished here, but Sami got away well enough to play on.

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Imagine he didn’t. If we had seen something similar to the one that Jackson Hastings copped from Pat Carrigan in 2022, which ended the halfback’s season, would it have been a send off?

Does it matter how hurt someone is? It’s hard to base punishments on injuries, so we should be based on the tackle in question. On that logic, Plath should have walked.

On the commentary, Dan Ginnane called it ‘horrific’, while Cooper Cronk focussed on the lack of severe injury.

“The only saving grace for young Plath is that Sami stayed out there,” said Cooper Cronk at half-time on Fox League.

“It will be interesting to see what the judiciary do off the back of this, but that was a bad one.”

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