I probably have a bit less to say about the Titans than most other teams, which is why I’ve left them until later. As the most recent team, they haven’t really had a chance to grow into their own character yet, which is always difficult anyway for a team that hasn’t developed in tandem with the surrounding community. They’re also the only team that isn’t attached to a city, a suburb or a town, but to an amorphous, decentralised, exurban area, with the result that I never sense anything specifically “Gold Coast” about them when they play. One of my friends has compared them to the Miami Dolphins in the way that they relate to their community, but I think that’s probably more about the resemblance between the Gold Coast and Southern Florida than the team itself (plus the Dolphins have a much longer and more established presence in their community).
For the Sydney NRL fan, the Titans often feel a bit like side-players, occasionally appearing against your team, but mainly used to broker player deals or as a holding-pen for players as they try to make it back into the big time. That said, you do get some Sydney fans who go to the opposite extreme and become die-hard Titans supporters, usually younger fans who quite understandably enjoy the experience of getting in with a team on the ground-floor and being a formative part of the footy community as it evolves (and it’d be interesting to look into the Sydney Titans community – I sense it is pretty strong). Nevertheless, although the Gold Coast is undoubtedly a hotbed of League fandom, I always sense a very conscious effort to craft and market the “Titans community” whenever watching their games or commentaries, which perhaps also makes them the first post-regional NRL team as well, a team that could be picked up and transplanted anywhere that has a reasonable League base without really changing in character. At times, that make me wonder whether the Titans have been designed and marketed to ensure that the Gold Coast doesn’t return to the identity crisis of 1988-1998, and the string of teams – and team names – that kept on trying and failing to tap into what it meant to be intrinsically “Gold Coast” in their outlook and mentality. Even now, what amounts to a great stable of footy players – including Dave Taylor, David Mead and the up-and-coming Ryan James – still seems a bit reticent, somehow, to identify too much as a team, which is perhaps what happens when your catchment area is so diffuse – not quite a city, not quite a town.
Then again, that looseness has also allowed them to be one of the most flexible, experimental and eccentric of teams – a work in progress – most recently in their bizarre victory over the Raiders in Round 24, smashing the Green Machine in the most unusual circumstances, from Greg Bird’s injury in the first second of the game to Nate Myles’ downright refusal to be substituted. Interestingly, that flexible, transitional identity may have been the breeding-ground for what I’m sensing may be one of League’s first coming-out moments as well – Kayne Lawton, one of the best upcoming halfbacks in the game who retired in 2013 at the height of his powers to work on a mysterious fitness franchise that’s only just been unfolded on the front cover of DNA magazine. In that sense, Gold Coast perhaps makes most sense as the NRL closet – somewhere players go to transition somewhere else, but perhaps not a place you want to remain indefinitely.