While last week’s Grand Final rematch between the Broncos and the Cowboys was the traditional Queensland derby, it’s not hard to imagine the Titans bringing more excitement to clashes north of the border after last night’s standoff with Brisbane. Although the replay at Suncorp was always going to be personal for the Broncos, there was one team member who couldn’t quite take it personally. Having only joined Brisbane this year, James Roberts didn’t have as much at stake in bringing it against North Queensland, which didn’t prevent him from putting in a barnstorming effort, but did make you wonder just how much more attitude he’d bring when he faced off against his spurned home club this round.
Boy, did Roberts deliver. Few player departures have felt as sudden, personal and pointed as Jimmy the Jet’s sudden termination of his Gold Coast contract at the end of last season. It was only after watching him tear up Cbus last night, however, that it became clear just how personal it was. In the best grudge match of the season so far, Roberts rammed himself at the Broncos, trying and trying and trying to break through, even when it seemed as if it was going to exhaust him too soon or compromise Brisbane’s larger game plan. If Cbus has turned into something of a bona fide fortress over the last couple of rounds, then Roberts set out to dismantle that with all his might, smashing down the first try of the game in the third minute and never looking back.
It didn’t hurt that the rest of the Broncos were looking pretty good as well. Darius Boyd made one of his best fullback efforts of the season, sending a super cut-out pass to pave the way for Jordan Kahu’s try in the 44th minute. Only a couple of days before, Boyd revealed just how close he’d come to signing with the Titans, and his synergy with Roberts seemed designed to intimidate the home team with the Gold Coast outfit that never was. As always, Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt seem to get just that little bit better from game to game, while Corey Parker and Jordan Kahu worked well as a kicking duo, with Kahu getting to convert his own try in one of the nicer touches.
Even if Roberts managed to outpace Oxford Street, however, the Titans still put in a pretty fair performance on the other side of Steeden. For two teams that started out as premier favourites and projected cellar-dwellers at the beginning of the season it was a remarkably equal match. Sure, Brisbane may still be at the top of the ladder and premier favourites, but it’s amazing to see just how far the Titans’ star has risen. Their panache last night was all the more remarkable in that Dave Shillington came down with an injury in warm-up. As part of the new-look Titans, it would have been great to see this big bopper square off against Roberts, especially since the Titans’ resident hard man was fairly disempowered in the five-eighth jersey. While Greg Bird may be great at including five-eighth moments in his repertoire, he doesn’t have the kicking skills or the temperament to work in the position for a full eighty minutes, and his discomfort could be felt across the entire team.
It was quite touching then, to see Ashley Taylor carrying Bird – the kind of two-way relationship between young guns and veterans that’s especially important at a club with the longevity issues of the Titans. With the exception of a penalty goal from Kahu in the 77th minute, Taylor fired the last shots of the night, converting the second of two incredible tries from Zeb Taia that occurred in the 64th and 68th minute. For those who’ve been following Taia’s career, it was great to see him really come into his own alongside Taylor this season, while for those fans of the older Titans lineup it was inspiring to see David Mead make his most decisive performance as fullback this season. Scoring the Titans’ first try in the 34th minute – the only points Gold Coast would rack up for the next thirty – and smashing into Corey Oates early in the game to prevent him scoring on the back of Roberts’ second-minute moment of madness, he provided the kind of assurance and vision that Gold Coast needed in the absence of the rest of their full squad.
In many ways, then, it was Zeb Taia’s two tries that really seemed to be the final note in the game. Sometimes you come away from a match more impressed with the losing team’s potential than the winning team’s performance. That was very much the case for me at Cbus last night: I expected Brisbane to win, but I continue to be surprised by just how much of a fight Gold Coast are putting up this season. With talk of their club being used as a vehicle for the North Sydney Bears, they determined to fight for their rank and status as a Queensland Rugby League team, which means showing the Broncos – and hopefully the Cowboys – just how well they can meet them on the field. Here’s hoping that they bring the same attitude to bear against the Sharks for the showdown at Southern Cross Group Stadium next weekend.