There were plenty of pats on the back for the Titans for competing against the in-form Brisbane Broncos on Friday night. But it was no consolation for the Aquis Titans who know they put themselves in a position to win the match, yet fell short.
Sure, it was a match between a side that many critics, and bookies, had tipped for the wooden spoon up against the premiership favourites – and with the Titans having lost Tyrone Roberts days before the match and David Shillington just minutes before through injury.
But for all the character, and aggression that put the Broncos under pressure when the game was anyone’s at 22-12 then 22-16 with six minutes remaining, a crucial decision and some crucial errors played a big part in deciding the match.
One stat that stands out since the convincing first round clash with the Knights, is that the Titans have allowed their opposition to score first in six of the eight halves of football. And in most cases, early in the half: v Storm (round 2) in the 4th minute and again in the 55th; v Tigers (round 3) 5th minute; v Raiders (round 4) 9th, v Broncos (round 5) 3rd minute and 44th minute.
That has meant it has been left for the team’s resolve, fitness and character to come from behind to win matches. And that leaves little room for error.
On Friday night, three crucial plays in the last 22 minutes when the Titans had begun to keep possession and contain the Broncos, who had skipped away to 16-4 ended up being decisive.
The first was Broncos interchange hooker Kodi Nikorima skipping out of dummy half and catching the Titans defence unaware and exposing the left edge defence, with a 45m run to the tryline. Jordan Kahu’s conversion made it 22-4 with 21 minutes remaining.
Zeb Taia’s double in the 64th and 68th minutes, off Daniel Mortimer’s service at dummy-half, brought the score back to 22-16 and it was suddenly GAME ON!
Then came the crunching decisions that proved so decisive – and typified the vagaries that often decide the winners and losers.
Broncos five-eighth Anthony Millford lost the ball in a tackle near halfway and it bounced off the shoulder of Chris McQueen and back into his hands. As Titans players stopped waiting for the call of knock on, referee Jarrod Maxwell signalled play on.
Instead of attacking inside the Broncos’ half, the Titans were straight after in their own quarter and Mortimer fumbled from dummy half to give the Broncos a scrum feed. Fortunately in the next set a smashing tackle by Agnatius Paasi on Matt Gillett saw the Broncos cough up possession.
From the next set the Titans were in the Broncos half – three minutes after they should have been from the Millford spill – but this time Paasi, who had strong second half and was at the forefront of the Titans aggressive defence and running (his offload led to Taia’s second try), tried an over-optimistic offload close to the ground and possession was lost. That was the last attacking raid the Titans had.
Ryan James was penalised for a flop as third man in after James Roberts was tackled, another harsh call, and the Broncos opened up an eight-point lead from the penalty goal. Of course, Greg Bird’s shallow kick-off did not make the distance and the game was lost from then.
Those 50-50 decisions by players and referees just minutes apart when the game came alive and was there to be won, were the compelling moments that were so crucial.
The Titans don’t want to be the underdog team that is praised for having a go and taking the premiership heavyweights to the wire, they are working hard to get the snap calls right.
When they do, they may no longer be praised for being competitive – but for being victorious.
Taia was the team’s players’ player after another fine 80-minute performance that took his try tally in five games to four, and lead the forwards’ yardage. David Mead was again superb at fullback and his try-saver on Corey Oates will be on the season’s best try-saving highlights reel while skipper Nathan Friend’s first half defensive appetite (Prozone’s stats logged him for 35 tackles in the first half) was inspiring, while Ryan James was again tireless and topped the tackle count with 49.
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 48%, Broncos 52% (the Titans had just 41% in the first half)
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 68% (23/34), Broncos 78% (29/37)
ERRORS: Titans 10, Broncos 8.
TACKLES: Titans 339 (missed 34), Broncos 332 (missed 25)
OFFLOADS: Titans 11, Broncos 6.
LINE BREAKS: Titans 2, Broncos 6
PENALTIES: Titans 3, Broncos 6
TOP TACKLERS: James 49, Friend 38, McQueen 36, Douglas 33, Paasi 26, Pulu 26, Mortimer 21.
TOP METRE MAKERS: Mead 162, Taia 113, James 108, Macdonald 102, Olive 99, Pettybourne 92.
TOP MINUTES (forwards): Taia 80, McQueen 74, James 65, Friend 47, Douglas 45, Pettybourne 45, Paasi 41, Pulu 39, Mortimer 33, Burr 20.