The character of the iSelect Titans was evident tonight with how they fought desperately while undermanned, down to 15 players and with six regular top graders missing, during the 22-8 defeat to the Broncos.
But just as evident was their own expectations could be seen in the talk in the dressing room after the match; the players felt the courage under fire was only a consolation to the fact they felt they should have won the game.
“We let ourselves down, we just didn’t execute when it mattered in the second half,” said lock Paul Carter who played most of the final 50 minutes at halfback or five-eighth after Aidan Sezer left the field with a pectoral tear that is likely to sideline him long-term.
“We can’t use injuries as an excuse; we have to learn to win those games,” said skipper Nate Myles. “We can’t keep relying on our effort and scramble, we have to play smarter and control the ball better when it counts. When our execution dropped that’s when the Broncos played their better footy.”
“We can’t use injuries as an excuse; there was certainly a lot of courage in the performance and I felt we could have won the game but we needed to be perfect in the second half,” said coach John Cartwright. “We couldn’t be coughing the ball up and giving them opportunities but that’s what we did.”
All may be true, and typified the doctrine within the team that put in their best half of football of the season at Suncorp Stadium, comparable probably to the first 40 minutes against the Storm. However it is just important to recognise the fact that they began without Test forward and co-skipper Greg Bird, halfback Albert Kelly, inspirational lock Ashley Harrison, winger Kevin Gordon and then lost centre William Zillman with concussion after 19 minutes and Sezer after 30 minutes.
That left the Titans not only two men down on the interchange bench but without both their chief playmakers (Kelly and Sezer), chief ‘one-percenter’ exponent Harrison and inspiration and dominator Bird.
The Titans paid for some dropped balls in their own end and poor completion rate in the last 20 minutes of the match. However, there were certainly some crucial close-calls on potential tries that were decisive between victory and defeat.
Centre Brad Takairangi, who was a wonderful performer in attack and defence, dropped a ball early in the game with Anthony Don in a try-scoring position outside. Right on half-time Dave Mead lost control of the ball as he shaped to put Don over in the right corner and Don had a third possible try denied when referee Ben Cummins indicated ‘no try’ when, at 14-8, he went to the video ref to check on a knock on from David Taylor from a Beau Henry bomb. The replay was inconclusive, and thus not condemning enough to change the call.
The Broncos scored before that after it was ruled that the Titans were responsible for a strip on their own tryline when it appeared the Broncos lost the ball. Matt Gillett scored from the next set to make it 14-8 from 8-all.
The Titans’ only try came from Don five minutes before the break from a good right side set play which saw the ball go through quick hands.
The Broncos only gained the ascendency in the final 20 minutes as the Titans battled fatigue with two forwards filling in the backline – Carter/Srama in the halves and Dave Taylor at left centre – and two down on the interchange. But the effort was tremendous and a little more finesse and patience would have swayed the game towards being one of the club’s bravest victories.
There were some wonderful performers but Cody Nelson, off the bench in his second NRL game, typified the desire and belief in the team with some willing defence. Mark Minichiello and Myles led the tackle count. Beau Henry was decisive and effective in attack at halfback/five-eighth. Taylor was willing to cart the ball aggressively regularly and handled the defensive adjustment well when he had to go out wide. Carter never took a backward step and had to play 80 minutes for the first time. The front row was relentless in effort, Mead courageous at the back. Kalifa Fafai Loa made an impressive club debut.
The team may have reason to feel disappointed and one they felt got away with crucial missed chances against a Broncos incapable of taking advantage of their extra manpower. But if Titans fans wanted an example of a side that digs in for each other in adversity, that was clearly there for them to see.
Brisbane 22 (Copley 2, Gillett, Reed tries; parker 3 goals) beat iSelect Titans 8 (Don, Sezer, Henry goals).