The equation and the theory is straight-forward for the iSelect Titans when they head to ANZ Stadium in Sydney tonight to take on the fourth placed Rabbitohs: they have to start winning soon and keep it going to the tune of six or seven wins from the last 10 matches of 2014 to make the top eight.
The team’s six-match losing streak began with South Sydney in round nine and it would be ironic if they can start a winning streak against the Rabbitohs too. And there are some indicators to suggest that a reversal of fortunes is not beyond John Cartwright’s side.
They have had only two big losses this season, 42-12 against Wests Tigers and 40-18 against Souths – both at Cbus Super Stadium. They were able to square the ledger against the Tigers six rounds later, 22-6 at Leichhardt Oval, and now comes the chance to repeat that against a Rabbitohs side lying fourth after a tremendous run of form until last round’s unexpected loss to the Cowboys.
Both teams are without key players – five lost to State of Origin in Nate Myles, Greg Bird, Dave Taylor (Titans), Greg Inglis and Ben Te’o (Rabbitohs) plus there is Souths second-rower Chris McQueen who would have been there if not injured.
Gold Coast welcome Albert Kelly back to the side for only the third time since the team’s last victory, against the Tigers, and he is set to start from the bench.
Ben Ridge was a late withdrawal because of a shoulder injury which has opened the way for 26-year-old back-rower Tom Kingston to make his NRL debut at age 26 after some great form for Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup. Kingston was set to join the air force when given his first full-time contract last February and has been close to an NRL debut several times but has been injured or coming back from injury.
The Titans are without five back-rowers in Bird, Taylor, Ridge, Ashley Harrison who announced his premature retirement last week and Caleb Binge who hurt his media ligament a week after debuting against the Dragons. Add Myles and Ryan James (out for the season with a shoulder injury) and it shows the depth of injuries to the forwards. Kingston becomes the 31st player used by the Titans this season.
But with that comes opportunity and Kingston (debut), Cody Nelson (two NRL games), Mark Ioane (two this season) and Paul Carter (12 games) come into the team (Carter returning from a club enforced suspension) ready to bring added enthusiasm.
“It’s been hard [during the past two months], especially having the halves combination change so much,” said skipper William Zillman. “But we have more depth than in previous years and we’ve been fortunate to have a few guys make their debuts and with that they bring new enthusiasm.”
The Titans have to improve in several areas against a Souths side that scored four tries in the first 16 minutes last time they met, going to a 22-0 lead. The one-on-one missed tackle count has to come down, they have to finish each half better than they have been and certainly display consistent physical defence to curb the Rabbitohs’ signature roll forward on the back of the giant Burgess brothers early in the tackle count.
The Titans have trained with little disruption and a lot of enthusiasm during the past two weeks after the one point loss to the Dragons.
“It has been an unusually tough Origin period with players unavailable or backing up,” said coach Cartwright. “But it has given guys opportunity and we haven’t been that far away; the majority or those games we’ve been in winning positions but not turned them it into wins.
“No one is hiding from where we are; they’ve taken responsibility. We’re embarrassed to be honest about where we are after such a good start to the season.
“The work has stepped up and we have trained as well as we possibly can with a squad that has trained for six sessions together. They’re keen.
“The competition is so tight and we could have won three or four of the close games we lost. But for whatever reason we didn’t but we know we’re not far away. There are 10 games left and if we win the majority of those games we’re going to be up there in contention.”