Mark Minichiello was man of the moment in his 250th NRL game. And he created a moment to mark the milestone that typified his efforts during a tough past month for the Titans, and the essence of a grinding 14-10 win against Souths that was desperately needed tonight.
It came in the 49th minute, three minutes after a try to skipper Will Zillman, which had tied up the scores at 8-all. Rabbitohs quick-footed youngster Alex Johnston latched onto a Sam Burgess bust and looked set to score. ‘Mini’ came from behind and not only brought him down but came up with a one-on-one strip to gain possession.
Another Mini-special came later when the Titans had fallen behind 10-8 and referee Ashley Klein had blown a series of penalties that stopped the Titans gathering any momentum. A Daniel Mortimer bomb was spilled by Johnston and Minichiello came up with the rebound and passed left to Brad Takairangi who stepped inside then passed out to put Kevin Gordon over for the match-winning try in the left corner (which Gordon brilliantly converted for the final 14-10 scoreline).
It was these sort of individual ‘efforts’ that typified the Titans’ victory which may have been ‘ugly’, as were much of the earlier season victories described as, but was built on physical, committed defence.
David Mead, at fullback after Zillman was concussed, came up with a blinder of a cover tackle on the runaway Nathan Merritt eight minutes from the end. Cody Nelson buried under John Sutton with two defenders in support and stopped a try.
The four Burgess boys who did so much damage in Souths’ 40-16 round eight victory did far less damage as the Titans’ forwards came up on them quickly with purpose, with Paul Carter or Luke Douglas (38 tackles) often leading the charge, for most of the game.
It was three tries to one in a match marred by 25 penalties, most in the ruck and many questionable. Mostly it was a win in which confidence and belief seemed to have returned somewhat and Minichiello marked his wonderful milestone, in front of several family members, with satisfaction.
“I saw him [Sam Burgess] go through I knew the fullback [Johnston] would take the ball; I knew it was a one on one and tried to rake the ball out and thankfully we ended up with the ball and saved the try,” Minichiello said of his wonderful try-saver.
“We spoke all week about doing the one per cent efforts that were going to win the game and everyone went that extra step to win the game.
“Our defence won it for us; physically we matched probably the biggest side in the competition and that’s what we needed to do. We spoke about them pouring through the middle and if we didn’t match them they’d run away from the game.
“You don’t get to play 250 games very often but to win made it more special, and to win against my former club who are doing well in this competition ... I’m really happy.”
What typified the effort too were the newcomers or lesser lights. Tom Kingston hit hard and was far from overawed coming off the bench for his debut at age 26. Nelson, thrown in as a starting second-rower because of injuries in his third NRL appearance at 25, gave away several kilos to the Rabbitohs big men but hit in a fashion defensive coach Trevor Gillmeister would have been proud of. Carter had the same attitude.
Albert Kelly came off the bench and ran with the confidence he showed earlier in the season before he became worried about his leg injuries. It was an inside ball from Kelly in a set move in the 34th minute to Mead, another excellent performer, that put the Titans on the scoreboard when 8-0 behind. It was Kelly’s pass to Zillman, who beat three defenders with good footwork, six minutes into the second half that saw the scores locked at 8-all.
The fastest man in the club, James Roberts, has seen no open space in his three games for the Titans but he was aggressive with the ball against his old club and a second-half three tackle repeat, all with equal aggression, typified his effort and attitude too.
The Titans weren’t always pretty with the ball but that didn’t matter. For Souths to score just one try, from a fortunate bounce from a desperate Merritt pass inside after recovering a John Sutton kick to Mead’s wing, was the statement. Souths’ completion rate was poor but some of that was certainly caused by aggressive Titans defence.
Sunday’s clash with Canberra at home now takes on new importance. The Titans have to back tonight’s effort up at Cbus Super Stadium where the record is just two wins from eight while on the road he side has won five from seven.
iSelect Titans 14 (Mead, Zillman, Gordon tries; Gordon goal) beat South Sydney 10 (Keary try; Reynolds 3 goals). Crowd: 10,925.