The iSelect Titans’ ability to grind out a win was as evident today as it had been at any time in the first eight rounds when John Cartwright’s side kept a share of the competition lead, albeit third place on averages, with a courageous 22-6 win against Wests Tigers at a wet Leichhardt Oval.
There were enough obstacles put in front of the Titans side that has defended with such fervour this season with Maurice Blair a late withdrawal the day before the match, and Cartwright making decision to play second-rower Dave Taylor at left centre.
Holding an 8-0 lead after a try and two goals to Aidan Sezer, the Titans appeared to be playing with more attacking confidence, early pace and width in the first quarter of a game than at any time this season. Albert Kelly was more inclined to take the defence on, David Mead was scouting endlessly for opportunities and Sezer’s try came from a good offload from Greg Bird and a shift to the right in the previous rucks, before Sezer stepped the defence from close range.
But then Kelly limped off with a leg injury and co-captain Nate Myles was sin-binned for 10 minutes moments later, leaving the side without its halfback and authoritative forward. But Paul Carter came on to replace Kelly and slipped into a roving back row role and the Tigers were kept scoreless while Gold Coast were a man down.
Sezer also went down with a sprained ankle but knew he had to stay on the field as long as he could with Kelly back in the dressing room, and played on gallantly although he has to pass on the goal-kicking duties and some of the general kicking to Greg Bird.
With signs of the Titans’ attack finally clicking, the side was suddenly without its halfback and one kicker, the other was struggling to use kick kicking leg, the skipper was a spectator after holding back Martin Taupau as Tigers halfback Luke Brooks passed to him with a try ‘on’ and the team’s regular fullback, centre and two props were missing.
But moments after Myles returned it was a Carter effort that reloaded the Titans’ confidence when he charged down a Braith Anasta kick, regained and threw a wonderful long inside pass to winger Anthony Don who scored under the posts. Sezer’s conversion made it 16-0 four minutes from half-time.
The young Tigers forwards came out revved up after half-time and centre Tim Simona scored after some good fortune when a Blake Austin kick took a rebound off Carter and Austin then toed ahead with the ball just out of reach of Mead. Kevin Gordon just beat Keith Galloway to the ball in-goal but couldn’t quite toe it dead and Simona pounced on it. Pat Richards’ conversion, after the ball hit the left upright, suggested the Tigers’ luck may be quickly changing on the back of their increased energy.
But again the Titans were able to steady when Bird scored off a perfect Seer grubber kick into the Tigers’ in-goal to open up a 22-6 lead with 28 minutes remaining.
While the score did not change, neither did the physicality of the contest and the Titans’ composure. And while both teams had key players missing, the Titans’ turnaround after being smashed by the Titans 42-12 only six weeks earlier showed the side’s resilient attitude this season.
It was the team’s biggest winning margin in their six victories and puts their for-and-against back into the positive. And it was the fifth time in the six victories they had conceded two tries or less, meaning their 21 tries conceded is a stat bettered only by Canterbury with 18 (and equal to Roosters and Rabbitohs).
“The Tigers have been starting well all year and we hadn’t been, and we wanted to focus on that,” said co-captain and prop Myles, who made 47 tackles and was rewarded for another whole-hearted display with Test selection, alongside Bird. “Winning ugly doesn’t worry us as long as we’re getting better as a team and make sure out starts are better, which I think we did.”
Tigers coach Michael Potter certainly concurred. “Early I thought they were all over us,” he admitted. “I think the other team should be congratulated how they started the game; they started really quick and physically.”
Coach Cartwright described the clash as one of the most physical of the season. “There was a lot of courage shown by our guys, considering the circumstances,” he said. “They’re a physical team and if they get a roll on they can score points quickly but we handled them well.” He was particularly happy with how “smart” the side played when Myles was absent, denying the Tigers possession and kicking well.
It was another victory based on grit and desire if not spectacular play, although there were signs of that emerging early in the game before Kelly was replaced.
Carter was placed on report for what seemed a fairly innocuous tackle on a falling David Nofoaluma while Simono was reported for a lifting tackle on Sezer.
iSelect Titans 22 (Sezer, Don, Bird tries; Bird 3, Sezer 2 goals) beat Wests Tigers 6 (Simona try, Richards goal). Crowd: 8929.