The iSelect Titans left 1300Smiles Stadium frustrated on Saturday night. Frustrated at some decisions by match officials, frustrated at their own errors and frustrated that a season that promised so much in the first 10 rounds before crucial injury issues hit, is now perhaps past the critical stage.
Stranger things have happened in the NRL in recent seasons than a team outside the eight winning five straight games and making the finals and Titans will approach the last five weeks with purpose and passion.
And the squad has returning to action goalkicking playmaker Aidan Sezer, fullback William Zillman, halfback Albert Kelly and back-rower Caleb Binge next weekend or certainly the following week. And that just makes the frustration more evident when just two competition points from the past month would have provided more hope for them to come back to.
The effort of the Titans was certainly there against a Cowboys side striking some form and now in sixth place. But so too were costly errors with the ball, too many missed tackles and loss of discipline in the second half that led to frustration spilling over late in the game.
When asked in the post-match media conference to describe the performance, co-captain Greg Bird said: "Frustrating. I felt like everything was against us.
“We were in control of the game the same way we've been the last few games really and then we lapsed for a few minutes and they scored a couple of times and made some breaks and the floodgates opened.”
Unlike several other coaches, John Cartwright has rarely put the onus on the match officials after defeats this season but his frustration spilled over this time after some contentious calls that hurt the Titans although it has to be conceded the Cowboys were more constructive and effective with halfback Johnathan Thurston a commanding figure, having a hand in all five tries (one of which he scored) with three from kicks.
“You can accept a lack of discipline here and there but a bit of frustration set in and discipline went out the window a bit in the second half,” he said. “You'd like to see that sort of aggression and energy but it's got to be within the scope of the game. We had stages where we probably went a bit over the top, I think they were frustrated with some decisions and in general the way the game was officiated.”
He then pointed to a touch judge ruling David Mead went into touch when video replays showed clearly he didn’t; a try to Thurston after Mead lost the ball after taking a bomb when the video refs overruled the initial ‘no try’ decision when it could be argued there was no clear evidence Thurston grounded the ball. Bird cited the fact that the referees several times disagreed with interpretations and he became confused as whose view he should recognise.
But having said all that, the Cowboys were the better side and had some calls that they could challenge. They targeted the Titans’ edges well and Thurston’s finesse made sure that converted to the scoreline.
The Titans led 8-0 midway through the first half despite the Cowboys going close to scoring three tries but conceded 28 points straight, including 18 in 12 minutes either side of half-time. The Cowboys led 12-8 at the break.
The early lead came from a good individual try by Brad Takairangi who took the defence on and stepped off his left foot then went through three tacklers to stretch out and score. It was unfortunate that the Cowboys got the ball back immediately after Takairangi fielded the kick and was about to overbalance over the dead-ball line and tried to correct the situation by passing the Luke Bailey but he had a foot on the line, forcing a line-drop out.
The Cowboys cashed in, with Morgan scoring soon after following from Thurston’s left a grubber to the in-goal to the right. Four tackles after the kick-off Jason Taumalolo, who was causing continual bother on the left side and targeting the much smaller Mortimer (forced to make 30 tackles but never shirking his task), burst through. From the next play Thurston got into space and put Gavin Cooper away. Thurston converted for a 12-8 Cowboys lead.
The controversial Thurston try came four minutes after the break. He’d bombed on the last tackle and Mead fielded a metre out but was being driven back when he lost the ball. He tried to trap it with his legs but it went free and Thurston grabbed it. It went to the video ref with a ‘no try’ ruling but it was overruled, with it deemed Mead hadn’t secured the ball and Thurston did but it was a 50-50 decision. Thurston’s conversion made it 18-8 and the Cowboys scored two more tries as the Titans lost some discipline and the game became fiery and physical after a run-in between Paul Carter and Ashton Sims.
The effort was certainly there, and no more than from prop Luke Bailey who returned from injury and topped the tackle count with 32 and made good metres.
Paul Carter travelled in and out of Townsville on crutches but played with his usual venom and enthusiasm despite seven stitches in his foot. Mortimer, the smallest man on the field, never stopped giving his all while Dave Taylor continually carried players on his back cartng the ball forward and Beau Falloon, the next smallest Titan, headed the tackle count as usual and threw ultimate courage and effort into everything he did.
Cowboys 28 (Morgan, Cooper, Thurston, Moga, Linnett tries; Thurston 4 goals) beat iSelect Titans 8 (Takairangi try; Gordon 2 goals).