The Titans showed on Friday night that, despite having only one win from four games in 2015 and a home-ground loss record that is far from pretty, they may be just a few quality plays – at the ‘money end’ of a game – away from a string of victories.
Their form doesn’t read as sternly as the competition ladder suggests – Brisbane and Newcastle are equal top on the ladder and the Titans took both down to the wire.
The story on Friday night was the same as in the matches against the Knights and Wests Tigers: fighting hard to be in the match going into the final 10 minutes, working into good position within 20 metres of the opposition’s line – and then surrendering possession with unforced errors.
The character the Titans showed to fight back from 18-0 down – a score that did not reflect how the game had been played in the first half-hour – to 24-16 with 10 minutes remaining was outstanding.
But then came four successive sets in the Broncos’ quarter where the ball was spilled. Whether it was from anxiousness, fatigue, inexperience in some cases or a lack of confidence in these situations, is what the coaches and players will work hard to pinpoint.
The fact, however, is that the side came back from 18 points down and that a try at that time would have set up an incredible finish and possible finish, is what Neil Henry has to build from.
The ball control, and defence, in the first 20-minutes, was terrific, which the Broncos conceded. They had to work hard, and were outstanding in defending the Titans’ pressure when they completed nine of the first 11 sets.
Aidan Sezer’s kicking game and positional direction was tremendous. Then came a Broncos try through the middle of the ruck, then another from a runaway Jack Reed play against the run of play from a James Roberts drop ball and an Anthony Milford pickup of Reed’s flop back, then a Mitchell Dodds try after a ruling that Sam Thaiday had been stripped by Will Zillman which most commentators disagreed with, and the Titans were three converted tries down.
The get back to eight points behind, before a late Corey Parker penalty goal, had its merits.
Ryan James, who again played 80 minutes on the left edge, was outstanding and the aggression and power he gives there has been a real boon for Neil Henry. Greg Bird was tremendous on the right edge too, his power and footwork troubling the defence (he made 130m from 11 carries) while his defence was near-faultless.
The side just needs Dave Taylor, who started on the bench and played more in the middle than last season, to strike some of his 2014 form to give the Titans a real attacking edge in the pack.
Eddy Pettybourne has proven a handy late acquisition in the place of Paul Carter, while Agnatius Paasi provides the team sharp go-forward off the bench.
Kane Elgey took another step forward at halfback in the absence of the injured Daniel Mortimer, Nate Myles was good before a corked calf forced him off, Kierran Moseley played 71 minutes and really worries defences (it was his tip off to Will Zillman led to James’ try) and made 32 tackles, although he learned from a rush-up on a Andrew McCullough pass close to the line, led to Dodds’ first try.
Moseley says he has slowly been gaining confidence to back himself to run more, encouraged by the coach. He shows some real class touches and we will soon see more.
David Mead was an unsung hero, although he received the club’s man of the match award. Mead often went to the opposite wing to cart the ball up after kicks as he continually looked for work, made some good defensive judgments and a telling line-break.
And Josh Hoffman, up against his former club, has been so close to breaking through the line and breaking a game open with his speed and footwork, while Zillman continues to play well as they rotate between fullback and centre.
So near, yet so far, is a term that is appropriate for the Titans just now. The frustration is that for probably 70 minutes of all but the loss to the Panthers (and that could have been a very different game had a couple of calls gone the Titans way early) the team has stood up and competed. It’s at crucial positions on the field at crucial times where the ‘edge’ has to be found.
And then winning could become habitual.
Completion rates: Titans 29/42 (69%), Broncos 26/39 (67%)
Metres gained: Ryan James (178, from 19 runs), Josh Hoffman (164 from 15), James Roberts 158 (16), David Mead 132 (16).
Tackles: Kierran Moseley 32, Ryan James 28, Ryan Simpkins 24, Nate Myles 23, Greg Bird 21.
Offloads: Titans 14, Broncos 3. (Greg Bird best with 4).
Goalkicking: Aidan Sezer had kicked 12 in succession before missing his last kick, from touch to convert James’ try.