The iSelect Titans players and fans only have to look into our own midst for the belief that a finals position, despite the recent disappointing results, is well within reach with eight matches remaining … assistant coach Neil Henry and halfback Daniel Mortimer.
Henry was head coach at the Cowboys last season when they were in a worse position on the ladder at this stage of the season than the Titans currently are, yet made it to the finals in September. Mortimer was part of the Eels ‘miracle’ of 2009 when they won 10 of 11 games to go from expected oblivion to a grand final.
Their run shows how quickly fortunes can change at the important end of the season and how quickly results, and confidence, can change and snowball.
After 18 rounds last season eighth-placed Canberra were placed on 22 points and the Cowboys were six points adrift on 16 points with four teams in between. In comparison this year, Melbourne hold eighth place on 20 with the Titans two points behind on 18 with four teams in between.
The Cowboys had the bye in round 19 which gave them two points then lost 18-16 to the Broncos in round 20 but were still six points away from a finals place with six matches left.
They won all six to wrap up eighth place by winning their last six games to make the finals. In fact they had moved to eighth spot with a round to go, which meant they only had to third-last placed Wests Tigers in the final match to secure a finals place (they won 50-22).
The apparent difficulty of the draw is obviously integral when making comparisons but the Cowboys’ schedule wasn’t dramatically different than the Titans’ in 2014 when it comes to where opponents stood on the ladder. The big difference was North Queensland had a string of home games – four of the six were in Townsville (seven of their last 10 were at 1300Smiles Stadium).
They had to confront Brisbane who were equal on points in round 19, ladder leaders Souths (round 21) winning 30-12, 11th placed Penrith (two points above them) in round 22 (won 36-4), the Titans who were eighth and four points ahead (won 22-10), seventh-placed Newcastle (won 26-6), sixth-placed Cronulla (31-18) before finishing with the victory over the Tigers.
So North Queensland had to beat four of the top eight teams in the final six rounds to stay alive; the benefit of the draw being that those games effectively were ‘four point’ clashes because it brought them closer to teams above them.
Looking at the current ladder, which will obviously change before the Titans meet each of these opponents, our draw is: Newcastle (14th), Parramatta (11th), Cowboys (12th), Roosters (5th), Manly (1st), Dragons (9th), Warriors (6th) and Bulldogs (3rd) – also four of the top eight.
“Sometimes you can get a lot of confidence from starting a roll and that’s what happened with us,” said Henry. “There’s no magic formula.
“We certainly had the advantage of a lot of home games and we had a pretty healthy team, but also our position on the ladder was that every game was sudden-death from six rounds out so that added an extra urgency I suppose in how the team approached each match.
“But it shows that the ladder can change a lot at the back end of the season and we were evidence of that and that’s why we’re very much alive this season at the Titans; we’re only two points out of the eight with eight games to go.”
Mortimer was in his rookie season with Parramatta in 2009 when the Eels seemed an eternity away from finals football after round 18, languishing in 13th spot on 15 points with Penrith in eighth spot on 20, as is the benchmark this year.
The Eels won seven straight before losing the last round match to the Dragons 37-0, knowing eighth spot was wrapped up (and they thus rested some injured players). The Eels’ run continued right through to the grand final, lost 23-16 to Melbourne.
The key for John Cartwright’s side is obviously not to look any further ahead than getting the two-points in the next match, as clichéd as that sounds, but at least the Cowboys of 2013 and Eels of 2009 reinforce to Titans supporters there is a lot of footy still to be played.
AIDAN Sezer made a welcomed return to the training paddock this week and completed the field session with the side on Thursday. He is on track to return to the field certainly before the last round and club physio Greg Condon will track what has been excellent progress in the next two to three weeks.
MANY of the Titans players are massive Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson fans and were disappointed he wasn’t able to accept an invitation to attend a game and join them in the gym while he was filming on the Gold Coast recently.
But they will be out in force, with many of the club’s staff, at an internal fund-raising cinema night on White Ribbon Night next week - watching The Rock in the flick Hercules. They will join communities around Australia to raise money and awareness about the White Ribbon initiative, which campaigns against domestic violence against women.
Head coach John Cartwright is a White Ribbon ambassador and will host the evening which has gained widespread support. For more details about White Ribbon go to www.whiteribbon.org.au.
iSelect Titans chairman Rebecca Frizelle was invited to enjoy dinner with and address the Queensland women’s rugby league team that was in camp at Royal Pines this week before tomorrow’s interstate clash against the Blues at Leichhardt Oval. She enjoyed thoroughly talking with the inspiring group of women and they gained some great benefit from her insights into business and teamwork.
How’s this for a record – the women Maroons are chasing their 16th straight victory against NSW, double what the Queensland State of Origin side have been so widely celebrated for from 2006-13. One of the team members is Steph Hancock, the daughter of former Australian and Queensland second-rower Rohan Hancock.
HEAD TO HEAD – TITANS V KNIGHTS
Played: 11; Knights 7 wins, Titans 4.
Last three: Newcastle 46-16 (Hunter Stadium) 2013; Knights 30-6 at Skilled; Titans 24-14 (Hunter) in 2012.
In Newcastle: Knights 4, Titans 2.
Tries scored: Knights 50, Titans 46.
Tries conceded: Knights 64, Titans 58.
Completions: Knights 74%, Titans 69%.