Externally there were little expectations of the Aquis Titans in 2016. The bookmaker had the team favourite for the wooden spoon. There was focus on the losses of Kane Elgey for the season and James Roberts to the club in the off-season, reference to the turnaround of personnel and questions of how the team would combine.
Inside the camp there has been confidence – that we have a squad that had a mixed of seasoned NRL players and then some youngsters who may not have a big accumulation of NRL appearances but an upside in front of them when it came to experience and development.
And there were several facets of the 30-18 victory over Wests Tigers on Saturday night that showed the desired progress is in progress.
Ash Taylor overcame a car accident on Wednesday that shook him, his 21st birthday and a visit home to Toowoomba on Thursday and clash was Tigers boom boys who were getting all the media accolades in Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.
Yet his performance on Saturday was the best of his four in NRL company, which saw him reap his first NRL try and five goals, a try assist for Josh Hoffman and a boost in confidence.
Leivaha Pulu, who turns 26 before the end of the month, put in his best performance in his three-game NRL career. His 37 minutes was his longest stint, his 92 running metres was his best yet, and he added energy and physicality from the bench with more confidence than his previous efforts.
John Olive handled his switch to right centre well and showed he can handle the NRL pressure. Ryan James came off the bench and lifted the team’s tempo with his best effort of the opening rounds just when it was needed after the Tigers seemed a gear ahead in the first 15 minutes, rolling downfield strongly and showing crispness in attack, especially when they went to their favoured right side.
Josh Hoffman had his best attacking performance, breaking the line well for Taylor’s try in one of two line-breaks.
Chris McQueen, who won the players’ player award, again showed what value he is to the Titans with a busy and effective defensive performance on the right side (he equalled the tackle count with 32) and yet he still put in 13 hits ups for 125 metres and was the only forward who played the 80 minutes.
The 82 per cent completion rate was a season best and was the catalyst for the 30-point run of points between the 38th minute and 61st when the Titans completed 10 sets straight.
Against the Storm six days earlier and a drop off in defensive intensity in the five minutes before half-time proved costly with the score blowing from Titans 10-6 to Storm 18-10, and a major catalyst for the loss. Against the Tigers it was a lift in intensity in that period and a determined try from dummy half by Daniel Mortimer that lifted the Titans from 10-0 behind to 10-6 and in touch. It proved the catalyst the a change of momentum that ultimately provided the win.
It was part of the gradual progression towards the moulding the team Neil Henry is trying to develop – perhaps down on star power compared to the big hitters of the NRL but a team that competes of just about every play, can achieve consistency in the small but important aspects of the game week to week and is moving closer to competing for 80 minutes
KEY MATCH STATS
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 54%, Tigers 46%
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 82% (33/40), Tigers 63% (22/35)
ERRORS: Titans 12, Tigers 13.
TACKLES: 289 (missed 32), Tigers 333 (missed 18)
PENALTIES: Titans 7, Tigers 6
TOP TACKLERS: Paasi 32, Friend 32, McQueen 32, Bird 26, Taia 23, James 21.
TOP METRE MAKERS: Mead 187, James 160, Macdonald 147, McQueen 125, Pulu 92.
TOP MINUTES (forwards): McQueen 80, Taia 65, Bird 62, Paasi 53, James 49, Friend 44, Pulu 37, Mortimer 35, Douglas 28, Shillington 26.