The Aquis Gold Coast Titans finish the season with a mighty challenge against the third-placed North Queensland Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night – and a season of frustration but promise in the development of several young players who will be at the club in 2016.
There will be a significant turnover of players and Matt White, Dave Taylor, Brad Tighe, Kalifa Faifai Loa and Beau Falloon play their farewell matches against the Cowboys. Ten others also will no longer be at the club including Nate Myles and Aidan Sezer who will miss the game with injury.
However, after starting the season with none or little NRL experience, will be Kane Elgey, Nene Macdonald, Lachlan Burr, Nathaniel Peteru and Agnatius Paasi and the clash with the powerful Cowboys, led by Johnathan Thurston on the way quite probably to his fourth Dally M Medal, will be an experience they should remember.
The Cowboys had not been impressive from rounds 22-25 with losses to fellow finalists Cronulla, South Sydney and Melbourne last weekend and were 16-0 behind midway through the round 25 clash with the Warriors. But they piled on 50 straight points in Auckland, even without Queensland back Michael Morgan, and will be searching for that sort of potency– aided by the return of Test prop James Tamou – against the Titans, to take into the finals.
“We face a big test against a Cowboys side coming third and with three Origin players in their ranks but we have some confidence on the back of our two wins in a row and we know we can trouble sides if we play some footy,” said coach Neil Henry.
“The key for us is to step up a level again and certainly complete out sets well – it was at about 76 per cent last week which is better than out season average – so as we don’t have to do too much defending.”
The Titans are below strength with several experienced players missing, including Eddy Pettybourne who hasn’t recovered from an ankle injury. There may be some late team changes.
For Elgey, who will play his 16th NRL match in his debut season that has seen him impress with his attacking instincts but be challenged by the physical demands – much like Thurston was in his formative years at Canterbury – it will be another milestone experience against a champion who has just been judged one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ (the best seven halfbacks of the past half century).
“It will be a great opportunity or Kane to be on the same field as JT, who is still the benchmark as an organising half,” said Henry.
“We have to work together defensively on JT because he has a great show and go and short ball at the line. We have to try and limit his opportunities.
“We must also match them in the forwards. It will be a battle as they have their best pack on the field with Test and Origin props Matt Scott and James Tamou who returns from injury and Jason Taumalolo who is an international player and a real wrecking ball.
“They rely on their forwards rolling down the field well to give JT and Lachlan Coote, who has been playing like an extra five-eighth from fullback with Michael Morgan injured, some attacking space and we have to minimise that.”
HEAD TO HEAD
HISTORY: Played 15: Titans 8, Cowboys 7.
At 1300SMILES Stadium: Played 7: Cowboys 4, Titans ,.
TRIES SCORED: Cowboys 92, Titans 74.
TRIES CONCEDED: Cowboys 76, Titans 104.
COMPLETION RATES: Cowboys 78%, Titans 71%.
GOALKICKING: Cowboys 81%, Titans 76%.
SEASON AVERAGE SCORE: Cowboys 24-19, Titans 19-26.
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Touch Judges: Jason Walsh and Belinda Sleeman. Video Referees: Jared Maxwell and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports (live 7.30pm). Radio: ABC, 2GB, 4BC (live)