After watching much of the action from the seven games played prior to tomorrow night’s season opener at Remondis Stadium, iSelect Titans coach John Cartwright knows his team will have to work hard in defence with the ‘wrestle’ in the tackle minimised by the new NRL rules.
The first round has been fast and furious and, before an expected vocal crowd in Sydney’s southern ‘Shire’, the Titans know they have to control the ball in attack and be ready for plenty of dummy half running and easier yardage than previous seasons with the play-the-ball speed decidedly quicker in matches to date.
“I think it’s been a case of teams taking a little while adapting to the new rules and it has definitely led to more dummy half running, so we’ll have to be alert,” said Cartwright.
“I think it has had the desired effect and sped up the game, it has been good to sit back and be ready for it.”
With a pack boasting as much experience as any in the NRL and sharp in-close runners like hookers Beau Falloon and Paul Carter and livewire halfback Albert Kelly, the Titans could be well placed to take advantage of the new trend of moving down the field.
But it is consistency in defence that Cartwright is most looking for as their 2014 campaign is about to be set in motion with a team close to full strength with only hooker Matt Srama, probably a month away from playing due to a shoulder injury, missing from what would have been the best available starting 17.
And it will be the inside defenders who may have to work hardest with the rapid-speed ruck now the norm.
The Titans headed to Sydney today with no injury issues with the selected squad, with Ryan James travelling as 18th man. Co-captain Nate Myles and Falloon have had no pre-season trial experience but are jumping out of their skins to get onto the field.
The Titans also want intensity in the first-up effort from a side that has depth and aggression in a pack able to provide the springboard for the side, as shown last season when they were able to “get in the face” of the opposition and force them into error.
“It’s all about balance, balancing between getting up in their face but also realising it’s early in the season so it’s a game in which you have to conserve energy and get the interchanges right and hang onto the ball,” said Cartwright. “You have to get everything right but it certainly starts with forcing the opposition onto error.”
The battle of the packs will be intriguing. There is plenty of capacity for second phase play from both sides with Sharks prop Andrew Fifita as good anyone with offloading ability in the tackle, and skipper Paul Gallen also proficient at slipping a pass, even close to the ground. Wade Graham, whether in the back row or at five-eighth in place of Todd Carney who is expected to miss the clash, adds further attacking class.
But the Titans will start with giant David Taylor in the second row, a man capable of destroying any side with his power, pace and adept skills but needing to display it consistently during 80 minutes and 24 rounds. Alongside him are Ashley Harrison and Greg Bird who can also use the ball and debutant off the bench, Paul Carter, has looked an out-and-out footballer during the trials.
Carter’s NRL introduction is a sentimental one for Cartwright, who played many seasons with Carter’s father Steve, the competitive five-eighth of the 90s who holds Penrith’s appearance record with 246 first grade games.
The throw back in time for Carter, 21, goes further in that the 2011 Australian Schoolboys captain has had three seasons in under-20s and NSW Cup to prepare himself while so many teenager sensations are often thrust far quicker into the NRL.
“He’s served an apprenticeship, he was a standout at under 20s and had a couple of seasons in the NSW Cup,” said Cartwright. “It is how it used to be and it has allowed him to serve a good apprenticeship and make him ready.”
NOTE: The Away Legion will be congregating in Bay 105 (reserved seating) away supporters bay for this game.
GOLD COAST: W. Zillman, K. Gordon, B. Tighe, M. Blair, D. Mead, A. Sezer, A. Kelly, L. Douglas, B. Falloon, N. Myles ©, G. Bird ©, D. Taylor, S. Harrison. INTERCHANGE: M. White, L. Bailey, M. Minichiello, P. Carter.
CRONULLA: M. Gordon, S. Feki, B. Ayshford, J. Wright, E.Grothe, W.Graham, D. Holdsworth, A. Fifita, J. Morris, B. Gibbs, M. Prior, S. Tagatese, P. Gallen (c). INTERCHANGE: I. Du Gois, , T. Sopoaga, S. Vave, T. Arona.