Ryan James, who deservedly won the players’ player award yesterday, certainly could have done little more to try to inspire his team that was beaten for the third successive week by less than a converted try.
The prop played the entire 80 minutes, which is rare for a front-rower, and made an incredible 61 tackles against the Dragons while workrate-wise Luke Douglas was also impressive, with 46 tackles in just 44 minutes on the field.
James didn’t slacken off when the Titans had the ball either. He took the ball up 20 times, the most of any forward in the match, for 171 metres.
It surely has put him in well on the radar of the NSW State of Origin selectors after he was invited into camp last season as an indicator he is in their minds.
Yesterday’s loss, the sixth straight match in which the Titans conceded the first try early (Gareth Widdop crossed from a left-foot step on Leivaha Pulu in 8th minute), again showed the resilience and character of the side. However, on the flip side it also showed the team still has a way to go to take control of a game with get on the front foot and not have to rely on offloads, and second phase to score points.
It’s generally recognised the Titans don’t have the X Factor attacking star that some other NRL teams do, so they have to grind to victory and work for each other, which they have done for long stretches of every game. Effort and character has been in abundance.
And the team yesterday completed sets at 85 per cent, a season’s best and the fourth time in seven games completed at better than 80 per cent, something that was achieved only twice in 2015. It's about taking advantage of that possession and cmpleting sets better.
They had a setback yesterday when Eddy Pettybourne, who replaced the suspended Greg Bird, was on the field only six minutes when he suffered a compound dislocation of a finger in the 30th minute and was replaced three minutes later. At the end of the half Daniel Mortimer suffered a hamstring injury in the last play of the half after starting the match at hooker in place of co-captain Nathan Friend.
Leivaha Pulu, who started for the first time with Chris McQueen dropping to the bench, also injured a rib cartilage in the 29th minute but went back on under discomfort in the second half.
The Titans tended to play laterally at times, when direct play down the middle gave them good yardage (it was the key to the Dragons’ success) and relied on the cross-field kick to the in-goal, with almost brought a couple of tries when Nene Macdonald leapt high to get the ball but was held up and Anthony Don also leapt high to get the first touch but tried to tap the ball back to Macdonald when a clear catch might have seen a try.
But, as in previous weeks, crucial to the result were a moments that were matters of inches. The first was the Dragons’ third try that gave them an 18-6 half-time lead, coming from a rebound of a Widdop kick off the upright pad straight into Jack de Belin’s arms; and the second – just three minutes into the second half – when William Zillman put David Mead away (after a good Macdonald offload) down the left touchline but a desperate lunge by outstanding Dragons fullback Josh Dugan ankle tapped Mead and brought him down when a try looked certain.
A try early in the second half would have almost certainly dramatically changed the momentum of the game. Dugan’s lunge meant we’ll never know if that would have been the case.
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 53%, Dragons 47%
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 85% (33/39), Dragons 83% (34/41)
ERRORS: Titans 8, Dragons 9.
TACKLES: Titans 270 (missed 47), Dragons 300 (missed 18)
MISSED TACKLES: Titans 29, Dragons 20
OFFLOADS: Titans 14, Dragons 12.
LINE BREAKS: Titans 4, Dragons 4
PENALTIES: Dragons 7
TOP TACKLERS: James 61, Douglas 46, Friend 29, Taia 27, Mortimer 26, Taia 20, Taylor 20.
TOP METRE MAKERS: Mead 247, Zillman 226, Shillington 196, James 171, Paasi 164, Don 147, Taia 142, Hoffman 139.
MOST HIT-UPS/RUNS: James 20, Zillman 20, Mead 20, Shillington 19, Paasi 17, Taia 16.
TOP MINUTES (forwards): James 80, Taia 80, McQueen 51, Paasi 50, Shillington 45, Douglas 44, Pulu 41, Friend 40, Mortimer 40, Pettybourne 9.