No NRL team is capable of thwarting your expectations quite like the Tigers. After James Tedesco produced arguably the best performance of the year so far at Leichhardt Oval last Monday night, the Tigers went down 30-12 to the Titans at Cbus Stadium after a fairly promising open half. So far, only Semi Radradra’s performance against the Bulldogs has rivalled Tedesco’s bout of inspiration in Round 2, so it was a bit troubling to see Teddy only warming up in the 78th minute this time around. Usually, there’s something a bit anticlimactic about losing to the Titans, but last night’s match felt like it might be the first in a new surge for Gold Coast, who have suddenly jumped to sixth on the ladder despite being dismissed as wooden-spooners three weeks ago.
That said, the first half felt like a fairly nondescript Titans offering, as they stuffed up twenty tackles and allowed the Tigers to notch up a 10-0 League. It was only when Daniel Mortimer jumped over from dummy-half for a try just before the forty-minute mark that things started to look up. As with the Panthers match against the Broncos earlier in the day, the timing of that try proved to be crucial, with the Titans returning for the second half with such a renewed sense of purpose that they were able to churn out what may have been the most clinical, brutal and elegant twenty-five minutes of football this season. With Josh Hoffman scoring in the 44th minute, Ryan James in the 52nd minute, Ashley Taylor in the 57th minute and Nene McDonald in the 60th minute, the Titans racked up 30 points in 25 minutes, thanks in part to Taylor’s perfect kicking game.
It’s not surprising, then, that Taylor felt like the most promising Titans asset on Saturday night. Only two days after his twenty-first birthday, he put in a performance that was more than worthy of Kane Elgey’s boots, cementing his first NRL try with four perfectly poised conversions that he now needs to supplement with more sustained defence work, after allowing the Tigers to tackle their way down the Titans’ left side four times in the first half. In terms of more seasoned players, Ryan James was probably the most impressive force to be reckoned with, putting in a pretty good case for his right to the other sky-blue jersey later in the year. Indeed, from the 44th minute onwards, it felt a bit like we were witnessing the next great Origin feeder team, or the next stable of Emerging Blues, especially with Greg Bird back in form as well.
On the other side of the ball, Kevin Naiqama was the star of the show, echoing Tedesco’s hat trick last week with a trio of tries that allowed the Tigers to lose with a bit of dignity, even if Tedesco never quite seemed to get into gear. The first half, in particular, was a brilliant showcase for Naiqama, who ran rings around Hoffman and Taylor on the left side, and made the most of David Mead’s failure to defuse an angular bomb to pin down his second try. It was particularly bitter, then, to see him taken off with a shoulder injury towards the end of the second half – classic Tigers luck – especially since Mitchell Moses was as quiet as Tedesco. While he was more than competent, for the most part, you’d never think that he’d put in arguably the best half performance in the opening round of the competition.
With Tedesco, Moses and Brooks all fairly quiet, some of the other Tigers players came to the fore and shouldered some of the load in a different kind of way. Sometimes it didn’t work, as when Chris Lawrence was put on report for a lifting tackle on Ryan James. However, sometimes it did work, with Tim Simona stepping up as a somewhat unlikely hard man for the Tiges for a pretty memorable hit on Greg Bird. With the centre of the field also putting in a fairly sterling performance – David Nofoaluma, Aaron Woods, Jessue Sue and Tim Grant were courageous from start to finish – it was a Tigers effort built on the sheer bulk, power and toughness of their big men, rather than the combined dexterity and agility of Tedesco, Brooks and Moses.
It was a match, then, between two fairly inconsistent teams that are both searching for consistency. While, as a Tigers fan, I was disappointed with the result, there’s also something a bit exciting about seeing the Titans demonstrate the organisation and conviction that came to the fore in the second half. Although they’ve been around since 2007, Gold Coast have never really developed a strong charismatic presence on the field, despite having had a large number of very charismatic players. Perhaps the uncertain future of the club will force them to consolidate their brand and character. At the very least, it seems to have consolidated Cbus Stadium into one of the great fortresses of the competition – especially now that Brookvale and AAMI are starting to glimpse the ends of their current generations – with the win over the Tigers cementing the Titans’ fifth straight victory in a row on home turf. Here’s hoping, then, that both teams are galvanised by this grinding match into something particularly special next round.