The Aquis Gold Coast Titans have left their loyal home fans with another great memory to finish their season at Cbus Super Stadium with a heart-stopping 28-26 victory against finals bound St George Illawarra.
In similar style to last season’s final round 19-18 victory, after coming from 18-0 behind at half-time against a Canterbury side that went on to make the grand final, this time the injury-hit Titans stuck back from 20-12 behind at the break, with the only second half try conceded coming from a 90-metre against the run of play effort by Gareth Widdop.
It was a 77th minute try to the departing Dave Taylor, his second for the match in his best performance of the season, that levelled the scores with four minutes remaining, leaving rookie halfback Kane Elgey with the task of landing the conversion from 15 metres inside the right touchline to seal a great victory.
With the Titans trailing 26-22 going into the final minutes of the match, Taylor burrowed his way over from dummy-half. But it took several video replays after it was sent to the adjudicators as ‘try’ before it was determined that Daniel Mortimer, who played the ball, had not impeded the defenders.
In his final home-game for the Titans, Taylor had the 12,335-strong crowd on their feet with a barnstorming performance causing chaos for the Dragons defence by scoring two tries, making 10 tackle breaks and pulling off as couple of big hits.
With Wests Tigers’ big victory against the Warriors earlier in the day leaving the Titans at the foot of the ladder, they overtook three teams on the ladder. Should Canberra beat Penrith tomorrow night, it would ensure the Titans cannot win the wooden spoon with Penrith and Newcastle clashing in the final round.
It was a brave effort too with the side down to 14 fit players for most of the second half with Beau Falloon (back), Eddy Pettybourne (ankle) and Lachlan Burr (hip) injured but Burr having to go back on after receiving two painkilling injections when Josh Hoffman went off with a groin injury.
Left-edge back-rower Agnatius Paasi, who played 80 minutes, also had his best performance of the season, scoring a barn-storming try and winning the Channel 9, Triple M and the club's man of the match awards.
It was a fitting finish for the Titans who were bidding farewell to a host of departing players including Matt White, Beau Falloon, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Brad Tighe and Taylor who played and Nate Myles, Aidan Sezer and Ben Ridge who missed the match through injury.
Coach Neil Henry said he was pleased of his side’s ability to hang into the match despite being down troops and on the score board going into the final minutes of the match.
“It was a scrappy game at times but there was some real resilience, toughness and good attitude in the last 40 minutes by the boys to come from being behind at half-time,” he said.
“It was very pleasing, particularly being down players that weren’t playing today but we also lost a few troops out there and were down to a one man-bench meaning we had to rotate everyone around and shuffle positions.
“We lost Eddy who got an injection in his ankle but it didn’t improve so he’s in a boot, Hoffy did his groin chasing Widdop and Falloon’s back seized up pretty early in the game but he battled on but once he came off he was never going to get back out there.
“The group showed a fair bit of character for each other, they showed the character to hang in the game and say let’s get a result.
“The tries we conceded in the first-half were all preventable and we knew that, if we fixed our defence up and worked a bit harder to stay together in our defensive line we could get a result and to their credit they went out there and did it and got the result.”
Henry also said it was great to be able to get the win in front of their home crowd and on the club’s first old boys’ day, with a group of former Gold Coast Giants, Seagulls, Chargers and Titans forming a guard of honour before the match.
“Full credit to the team, it’s great to win at home and for the old boys. It’s good for the boys out there to prove they can hang in and get a result - it was scrappy but we will take it.
“We saw a highly entertaining game, with a few errors mixed in but it was pretty good and I thought we can play a style of football that can be entertaining and score points.
“The character, when you look at all of our 12 home games, I think the fans can say we had a crack at all of those games. We’ve had a couple of narrow losses and had some wins, so we need to make sure we can do that next year.”
Titans winger David Mead said he was proud the side’s character to hang in and close out the match.
“We definitely had the belief that we could come back and win, we just had to hang in there. We had a lot of injuries but the boys showed a lot of character, with only one man on the bench and had to hang in there for the full 80 minutes and we did that really well,” he said.
It was the Dragons who opened the scoring after Dugan got a quick play-the-ball away to dummy-half Mitch Rein who scooted through to score next to the posts and give Gareth Widdop an easy conversion and the visitors a 6-0 lead after five minutes.
After receiving a penalty 38 metres out and directly in front, the Dragons opted to take the kick at goal and with Widdop sailing the ball over the black-dot the Dragons extended their lead out to 8-0.
The Titans crossed the line in the 17th minute but were denied by the video-referee who ruled Dugan grounded the ball moments before Kane Elgey got his hand to it.
There was no denying the Titans in the 23rd minute when Agnatius Paasi barged his way through and managed to plant the ball down despite the attention of two Dragons defenders. With Kane Elgey adding the extras, the Titans reduced their deficit back to 8-6.
An error by the Titans in the set following the try gifted the Dragons a great opportunity to extend their lead and they took full advantage with prop-forward Mike Cooper crashing over under the posts before Widdop converted his try to give the Dragons a 14-6 lead.
The Titans hit-back in the 31st minute with Daniel Mortimer getting a deft pass away to a barnstorming Dave Taylor who crashed over next to the posts giving Elgey an easy conversion to see the Titans narrowly trailing 14-12.
The Titans were made to pay for an error coming out of trouble with crafty halfback Benji Marshall stepping his way through the defensive line to score adjacent to the posts before Widdop converted to take the away-side out to a 20-12 half-time lead.
After being forced to defend a mountain of Dragons attack, the Titans were rewarded for their efforts in the 52nd minute when Mead managed to plant his hand on a loose Elgey kick to register first points of the half. With Elgey adding the extras the Titans trailed 20-18 with just under 30 minutes remaining.
The Titans hit the lead for the first time in the 62nd minute after a well-placed Mortimer kick found a flying Mead who managed to get the ball down just inside the touchline to edge the Titans out to a 22-20 lead going into the final quarter of the match.
The Dragons turned defence into attack in the following set after James Roberts coughed up the ball and Widdop scooped it up 10 metres form the Dragons’ line and race downfield to score under the posts to give himself an easy conversion. Saints then led 26-22 with under 15 minutes remaining.
The victory meant the Aquis Titans finished the season with wins in their last three home games – against Parramatta, Canberra and the Dragons. The head to Townsville to complete the season against third-placed Cowboys on Saturday night.
Aquis Gold Coast Titans 28 (D Mead 2, D Taylor 2, A Paasi tries; K Elgey 4 goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 26 (M Rein, M Cooper, B Marshall, G Widdop tries; G Widdop 5 goals).