OFTEN in the NRL you need some luck, a rub of the green with tough refereeing decisions … and that little bit of an edge that comes with class, speed or sometimes just an awesome group desire.
The stars aligned in most of those areas for the Titans against the Sharks at Remondis Stadium last night.
Luck looked like it would conspire against the Titans when right winger Valentine Holmes scored his first NRL try when a desperate last-tackle grubber kick from Sharks centre Gerard Beale rebounded off Josh Hoffman’s shin into Holmes’ hands and he just had to run 10 metres to level the score at 6-all.
The Titans were fortunately on the right side of a crucial 50-50 refereeing decision, a rare occurrence for the Titans this season, when Michael Gordon was called back after he appeared to have scored another first half try for the Sharks. Video refs Shayne Hayne and Henry Perenara saw that Michael Ennis had tugged at Matt Srama’s jersey to slow him getting to a tackle, was a massive relief for the Titans.
And in the end there were three moments of both class and desire by Titans centre James Roberts that proved the difference between the Sharks and the Titans being 0-4 after four rounds and on the foot of the ladder.
The first came when he fought to dislodge the ball from Matt Prior, after David Mead had flopped the ball back on the Sharks’ line, and came up with possession. Aidan Sezer picked up the loose ball and put Dave Taylor away for the Titans’ first try. On the last tackle, it was a good low risk play by Roberts – and an effective one.
It was Roberts who, with the score at 14-6 Cronulla three minutes into the second half, shocked Sharks fullback Michael Gordon when he refused to give up on a Kane Elgey grubbed staying alive before reaching the dead-ball line, and forcing it with centimetres to spare.
It was at the 43rd minute mark too that he did something exceptional against the Panthers at 8-0 behind a fortnight earlier when he made a 30m right-side break with speed that was breathtaking, and positioned David Mead beautifully inside but unfortunately Mead’s pass went to Panther Tyrone Roberts.
This time Roberts got the result himself. That made it 14-12 and the Titans rolled forward with confidence.
Few times in recent decades have we seen four penalty goals in a match (not since scrum penalties were abolished?) but that’s was the game’s fate when the Sharks showed their nervousness, or lack of faith in closing out the match, when they elected to take an easy kick at goal to take the score from 20-18 to 22-18 with seven minutes remaining.
With Sezer kicking at an 89 per cent success rate, it was a strange move to extend the lead from two to four pints and it proved crucial for the Titans.
Roberts entered the fray again. As the Sharks shifted to the left, Roberts anticipated early that the long ball might have been on and – with two Sharks outside in Luetele and Feki and an overlap certain if he didn’t intervene – the man who many believe is the fastest in the NRL, intercepted Wade Graham’s pass and his third conclusive act in the match ended up being the most important as he ran more than 50 metres to level the scores at 22-all.
Sezer doesn’t miss from that range and slotted his fourth goal of the night – and his ninth in succession this season after missing his first attempt only – to give the Titans a win that might provide a platform for the season.
If Roberts – who has scored 20 tries from his 32 NRL appearances – can be criticised of anything it is his lack of involvement at times or on-line defence but he has worked hard on both. His involvement last night was evident in 12 carries for 168 metres and 12 tackles, and a match-winner.
“I called ‘LG’ (Elgey) to kick; I thought I could get in behind Gordon,” Roberts said of his first try. “And the strip on Prior - it was one on one and I don’t think he was expecting it. It was worth a shot.
“At the end there I could see Graham’s eyes the whole time was on looking outside where they had two men so I just hung back and he kept coming at the line and I just sensed he was going to pass long. It was good it paid off.”
There were several performances worth noting. 48, 39, 41, 39.
Prop Luke Douglas who is playing longer minute (62 this match), topped the tackle count with 48. He is averaging 41 a game (39 v Tigers, 41 v Panthers, 39 v Knights).
Agnatius Paasi scored his first NRL try, from a good pass by skipper Nate Myles at the line 10m out.
Kane Elgey handled his debut with aplomb, withstanding some big boys being run at him in the opening minute (including fellow debutant Jack Bird, a bright forward prospect), nearly slicing through from close range the first two times he elected to run, then coming up with the try assist for Roberts from a well-placed kick.
Neil Henry will think there were still too many penalties in the Titans half and his side’s completion rate can improve (it was 68 per cent) but the way they produced the knock-out blow in the final five minutes rather than being floored by a TKO generated by the team’s own errors is what pleased him.
Three of their games have now been decided by two points or less, similar to last year’s early season scenario where three tight games were won, not lost.
Now there will be a couple of days of nervousness as we await possible charges on Beau Falloon (lifting) and Ryan James (high tackle). Neither will want to miss Friday night’s local derby against Brisbane. Kierran Moseley’s return provides cover for Falloon but James’ aggression on the left edge would be missed.
POSSESSION: Titans 52%, Sharks 48%
COMPLETIONS: Sharks 71% (29/41), Titans 68% (25/37)
TACKLES MADE: Titans 341 (27 missed), Sharks 319 (25)
TOP TACKLERS: Douglas 48, James 38, Myles 35, Bird 30.
METRES GAINED: Roberts 168, Don 139, Bird 133, Taylor 112.
PENALTIES: 10-6 Sharks.