Sometimes the ‘ugliest’ win can be the most important and show more about the character of a team than the dominant victories. And that was the case in Canberra yesterday.
As Test back-rower Greg Bird articulated frankly after the match, the Raiders were the better team for three quarters of the match – especially the first half – and at 20-6 with 25 minutes remaining, perhaps felt victory was theirs.
But as our boys have proven in the three previous games, even in the 32-18 round two loss against Melbourne, one thing the Titans have displayed this season is an ability to hang tight in the final 15 minutes. And that – and Raiders’ errors in the last quarter of the game - led to a stunning 24-20 victory.
The current Titans, tipped by the bookies and many ‘experts’ to run last in the 2016 Telstra Premiership, are a tight group. They’re well below what they can, and want to, produce on the field and without doubt below the standards portrayed by their opponents this Friday, Brisbane, and North Queensland who competed in one of the best competition round matches for years the night before.
The Titans made some basic errors with the ball – twice losing it at the play-the-ball and being responsible for a couple of simple fumbles when driving forward. But what pleased coach Neil Henry is the mantra of defending errors with real intent is starting to shine through.
Prozone’s stats say the Titans had eight try-saving tackles in this match. Indeed the on-line defence in the second half that kept the Raiders try-less was character-showing.
At the other end of the scale were ‘soft’ tries in the first half – a dummy by Raiders half Sam Williams on our right edge, a show-and-go and cross-field run by hooker Josh Hodgson on the Titans’ left edge for Elliott Whitehead’s try. Then another Hodgson dummy creating an easy pathway through for Edrick Lee’s try – too soon after Ryan James had put the Titans into the match at 12-6 in the 34th minute with his own dummy inside which opened up the defence.
However, the Titans have shown long stretches of defensive resilience. They went 47 minutes without conceding a try against the Knights before the line was crossed with 10 minutes to go, went 60 minutes without conceding a try (or points) against the Tigers from the 16th to 76th minutes and now added a 43-minute clean slate against the Raiders from three minutes before the break.
Chris McQueen was again tremendous, making 31 tackles as he had a personal assignment on Raiders’ rampaging back-rower Josh Papalii who was contained for most of the match although he tallied 139 metres.
Powerful 122kg Raiders prop Shannon Boyd was restricted to just 88 metres while his former mentor Dave Shillington ran for 154 metres for the Titans and came up with the solo try, from a tap-kick 10 metres from Canberra’s line, that sparked the unlikely comeback to victory.
Zeb Taia again showed how well he has adapted to the NRL after three seasons with Catalans Dragons, picking up his second try of the season after running a good line and being picked up by Luke Douglas. Greg Bird continues his impressive early season form, James came off the bench again and added authority and was the team’s busiest player, topping the tackles and metres gained and scoring a try to boot, while Daniel Mortimer topped the tackle count in his 51 minutes straight before being relieved by Kierran Moseley.
Tyrone Roberts (one goal), who is hoping the knee injury that forced him from the field is not serious, and Ash Taylor (three from three, taking him to eight from eight this season) give the side a goalkicking average of 88 percent, the second best in the NRL to Trent Hodkinson’s perfect record (seven from seven).
There is a long way to go, but character and confidence is slowly building. But consistency, discipline and injury are the facets that will determine if it continues.
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 50%, Raiders 50%
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 84% (31/37), Raiders 73% (27/37)
ERRORS: Titans 7, Raiders 12.
TACKLES: Titans 310 (missed 31), Raiders 319 (missed 19)
OFFLOADS: Titans 13, Raiders 9.
LINE BREAKS: Titans 4, Raiders 5
PENALTIES: Titans 6, Raiders 10
TOP TACKLERS: Mortimer 37, James 37, McQueen 31, Taia 28, Shillington 24, Bird 22, Pulu 22.
TOP METRE MAKERS: James 159, Shillington 154, Taia 129, Macdonald 122, Mead 120, Hoffman 117, Bird 114, Olive 99,
TOP MINUTES (forwards): McQueen 80, Taia 80, Bird 67, James 61, Pulu 57, Mortimer 51, Shillington 43, Paasi 33, Moseley 29, Douglas 22.