23 MARCH 2014 - Action from Round 3 of the National Rugby League (NRL) Australia 2014 season - Canberra Raiders vs Gold Coast Titans. Match was played on a Sunday at GIO Stadium, Canberra, ACT, Australia. PHOTO: BEN SOUTHALL | SMP IMAGES

Titans 24, Raiders 12 at GIO Stadium

CHARACTER. That’s the word that accompanied the iSelect Gold Coast Titans when they left GIO Stadium this evening after grinding out a valuable 24-12 heart-stopping victory against the Raiders, their second on-the-road win from two starts.

Coming off their biggest home loss in the club’s brief history, against Wests Tigers seven days earlier, the Titans had to do it tough. Circumstance conspired against them: a 15-8 negative penalty count; a completion rate of only 68 percent; the loss of fullback Will Zillman to a hamstring injury after 48 minutes, just a minute before centre Brad Takairangi suffered an ankle injury but had to battle on, although retreating to the wing.

Then there was co-captain Nate Myles making 58 tackles in a heroic performance from the front. His leadership mate Greg Bird just kept testing the defence on the left. Several times the Titans had defend three and once four successive sets on their line but conceded just two tries – one from an excellent grubber kick and the other on the right edge after the Raiders had a mountain of ball.

In the end halfback Albert Kelly, who hadn’t sensed enough momentum going his way to take the line on more than once, suddenly – in the 78th minute – darted through the centre of the ruck, beating Raiders hooker Glen Buttriss then getting to fullback Anthony Milford – the Raiders’ quickest player – but slowed him, put him on the back foot, then beat him for pace on the outside.

That made it 18-12 and with Greg Bird’s conversion kicking missing, the scene was set for a frantic finish from a short kick off with 90 seconds remaining. It went out and, in a crazy closing act, hero Kelly scooped on a loose ball as the Raiders threw the ball around in their last play … and ran 50 metres, in his third runaway opportunistic try in three successive games, to score his fourth try of the season.

“I am learning to time my runs and work on those big guys in the middle, finally we got a roll on late in the half and I was able to capitalise on that,” Kelly said of the moment he waited for. The 22-year-old seems to be learning patience in the way he aims his instinctiveness in a tight game.

But it was the determined goal-line defence that was the biggest feature of the victory. In the modern game, especially with the quicker play-the-balls, there is almost a resignation that when a team concedes a run of possession near their own line, points are inevitable.

But not tonight. For a team to win after holding just 68 per cent of possession against a side that was at home and in form, that reflects attitude, and communication, and defensive structure. And that all develops confidence.

Coach Cartwright wouldn’t be satisfied with the attack still. But with a stop-gap five-eighth in Ashley  Harrison, which in turn put more emphasis on Zillman’s role as a second pivot, and the penalty-a-thon stopping the game from getting any constant flow, that was somewhat to be expected.

“Our response against penalties against us really showed some character,” said co-skipper Nate Myles. So did coming from 12-6 behind at half-time with the penalties 7-2 against the Titans.

“That’s our challenge now, to mark a line in the sand and say that’s what we’re going to accept,” added a proud coach John Cartwright. “That was really, really pleasing. The amount of times they got penalties in the last 10 minutes and we were in a little bit of interchange trouble [with players injured] and blokes playing long minutes and out of position; and I think I counted four times they got piggy-back penalties out of their twenty late in the tackle count. That’s a real test of your team how they respond to that. You can drop your heads and lose your bundle and lose your formation. They threw a lot of footy at us and we just kept turning up and stopped them.”

Two of the Titans’ four tries came from the little men at dummy-half from close to the line – Beau Fallon in the 15th minute for a 6-0 lead, and Paul Carter at the other end to bring the score from 12-6 in arrears to 12-all. Even though they were two-metre efforts, for them to shirk off three bigger defenders each time again showed the determination the side played with.

But that was evident from early when prop Luke Bailey chopped down quick-man Jack Wighton’s legs off when a try looked likely after just four minutes; and when Zillman stopped a rampaging Shannon Boyd not long after. And it was too when normally two or three defenders turned up time and time again when a penalty or repeat set said they were entitled not to one more time.

It’s now an eight-day break before the Titans are at home to the Cowboys, led by the best play-maker in the game in Johnathan Thurston. Back-to-back efforts of this ilk, to redeem the team in front of their home supporters, is now what Carty is looking for.

Gold Coast Titans 24 (Kelly 2, Fallon, Carter tries; Bird 4 goals) beat Canberra Raiders 12 (Edwards, Milford tries; Croker 2 goals).