There are not always key big plays in NRL matches; often they become arm wrestles where completion rates and missed tackle counts can decide the result.
But there were three absolutely memorable plays in Sunday’s victory against the Bulldogs.
The first came with 20 seconds on the clock in the first half, with the Titans in their own half and 10-4 behind. Aidan Sezer looked up, called “40-20” and belted the ball with his left foot and found touch inside the Bulldogs’ quarter on the right side. The players ran to set the scrum with two seconds on the clock.
Daniel Mortimer, a hero on Sunday forced to play big minutes at hooker and second-top on the tackle count with 40, then put in a delicate kick to the left from the restart and Kevin Gordon leapt high over his opposing winger Corey Thompson and somehow got the ball to the ground. Sezer landed the conversion from the same piece of turf he practised several times at training the day before, and sent his team to the break at 10-all.
The other two massive moments came in the same play. At 16-10 ahead 15 minutes into the second half, the big Dogs men were smashing our guys and they struggled to get yardage out of their own quarter. After five tackles the Titans had not broken the 20m line and it was a defining moment as the pumped up Bulldogs were making a statement and were set to start their set of possession around halfway.
James Roberts ended up at dummy half and with a long kick needed, he ran to the left, saw Greg Eastwood shoot out of the line and leave some space and tore through the line, running 50 metres before cutting out two support players to find Brad Tighe on the left touchline. It was a very big gamble paid off by Roberts, but one of the best cover tackles – from Moses Mbye – pushed Tighe into touch centimetres short of scoring just about the try of the season.
Even though the try was thwarted and the Bulldogs gained possession, the play had gone 80 metres and they made an error on their set and the Titans scored, with a bomb from Sezer put down by Thompson and Josh Hoffman pouncing on it. Sezer’s conversion made it 22-10.
A key to the Titans’ performance was an 85 per cent completion rate for a second week, finishing 36 of 43 sets, and continuing control into the last 10 minutes to close out the match. They have now scored 49 tries this season, third to Canberra (54) and Brisbane (50) after being criticised last season for not having enough points in the team. But defensively is where coach Neil Henry has been looking for improvement too with the Titans at the wrong end of the NRL stats there with the most, 426, but the average has been down the past two weeks too.
Mortimer and Sezer played key roles in the other turning point. At 10-all it was a good inside ball from Sezer to Mead that put the fullback into the clear but Mortimer reacted well to support and fire a good pass in the tackle to Brad Tighe who scored.
While the Dogs were without five NSW Origin reps and skipper James Graham, the Titans were without three Origin players of this time last year in Myles, Bird and Taylor, in-form halfback Kane Elgey and were four regular hookers in Moseley, Beau Falloon and Matt Srama by half-time and Ryan Simpkins who did a good job off the bench earlier in the season.
Sezer has been outstanding in controlling matches, taking on the line with renewed vigour, being strong and physical defensively and stepping up when most needed by the team.
Roberts’ two tries took him to 13, just three now short of David Mead’s club record, but no closer to NRL leader Rona on 15. And while James’ form has been spectacular, it has also been more rounded. He scored a good short range try through his upper body strength in the first half and sealed the win late in the game after being given a good pass from an alert Agnatius Paasi.
POSSESSION: Titans 50%, Bulldogs 50%
COMPLETIONS: Titans 86% (36/42), Bulldogs 68% (25/37)
METRES: Titans 1565m, Bulldogs 1651m.
TACKLES MADE: Titans 310 (31 missed), Bulldogs 317 (25)
PENALTIES: 8-7 Titans.
TOP TACKLERS: James 41, Mortimer 40, Burr 33, Ridge 28, Douglas 24, Robinson 24.
METRES GAINED: Gordon 147 (11 runs), Mead 122 (16), James 124 (14), Tighe 117 (7), Paasi 112 (14).
MINUTES PLAYED (forwards): James 80, Robinson 80, Mortimer 66, Burr 64, Douglas 43, Pettybourne 38, Ridge 37, Paasi 36, Ioane 25, Moseley 14.