A comment in the media after Saturday’s one-point extra-time loss to Canterbury Bulldogs was that the Titans are a team that make it hard for the opposition to beat.
What the Titans need to find is how to cross that fine line in making it easier for themselves to win.
And there was such a fine line in how the result panned out after the Titans fought back from 20-8 down to 20-all and suddenly have much of the momentum in the last eight minutes of the match as defensive intensity lifted.
The Titans were in position more often than the Bulldogs to snatch the match-winning field goal or try as they dominated territory until Josh Reynold’s winning field goal – only the second time Canterbury were in position near the posts after the scores were level 11 minutes from full-time, compared to the Titans’ four or five drives into good position.
The fact is that the Bulldogs took advantage of less opportunity, and won the match. Twice the Titans grubber kicked (Roberts and Moseley) and had a charge down and missed with another shot.
While much has been made of slow starts, the crucial last periods of matches when the Titans have struck back to be in a position to win, they know they have let themselves down and not been able to deliver a knock out blow and know they have to improve in that area.
However, there were some crucial calls that didn't go the Titans' way in that late period.
The Bulldogs In the set after Josh Hoffman’s runaway try that levelled at 20-all, Greg Bird carted the ball into the Bulldogs’ half and appeared to be hit high in a tackle by Tim Browne. It will be interesting to see how the video review committee views the tackle but commentator Gary Belcher was led to comment “I’ve seen Greg Bird go for less than that”, yet there was no penalty.
In the Titans’ next set into the Bulldogs’ half Tyrone Roberts kicked high and David Mead followed through. Dogs’ centre Kerrod Holland jogged across field specifically to impede Mead but play was allowed to go on after Sam Perrett fielded the kick, despite an appeal from Mead and Hoffman for a penalty.
Next time Roberts set for a field goal he was charged down; the Titans received six more tackles then he had a second attempt, with little cover, and Moses Mbye came from an offside position to pressure Roberts and he instead ran and grubbered, the ball snapped up by Will Hopoate.
Canterbury’s only field goal shot in regular tiome came 30 seconds from full-time when Ryan James came from dummy-half to pull off one of the best charge downs imaginable when, in the final minute and with players exhausted, he ran right from second marker to smother Mbye’s shot.
Tyrone’s easiest field goal opportunity came early in extra-time from just from the right of the posts from 25 metres on the fourth tackle, but it sailed well to the left. When Reynolds was presented with his only other chance, he nailed it.
That was the cold fact of the match’s frantic concluding stages – the Dogs made more of their chances, and did score four tries to three.
At least the Titans scored first for the first time since round one, but still found themselves two converted tries behind early in the second half after the Bulldogs were far more effective making metres down the middle in the wet conditions to give them clear territorial advantage for most of the first half. But, as we’ve learned to expect, the Titans are never done.
The fact is they have now lost four straight through a combined deficit of 19 points, and have a for-and-against record of just minus three despite five losses. It shows consistency of performance week in, week out, if not within the 80 minutes of those matches.
Some things cannot be argued.
Greg Bird, who ran for a team best of 203 metres, had the most runs with 20, set up a try for David Mead with a cut-out pass on a left-short side, has started the season as well as any in the past three years.
Zeb Taia, who was awarded the specially struck Anzac team award for the tough spirit he displayed, is among the form forwards of the competition. He his five tries is not only the most in the team but the most of any forward in the NRL this season.
He runs good direct line on the left edge, and is tireless in defence too.
Ryan James has kept himself well in NSW selectors’ eyes with another willing performance that saw him top the tackle count for the fourth time in the past past five games and ran the ball strongly.
Hopefully, that crucial ability to snatch that clutch play at the back end of games after the signature second half rally eventuates can be discovered soon, as other results leave the Titans in top eight with a for-and-against as we go into the three Anzac Day clashes today.
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 48%, Bulldogs 52%
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 79% (34/43), Bulldogs 79% (33/42)
ERRORS: Titans 8, Bulldogs 11.
TACKLES: Titans 368 (missed 23), Bulldogs 355 (missed 18)
OFFLOADS: Titans 8, Bulldogs 5.
LINE BREAKS: Titans 2, Bulldogs 7
PENALTIES: Titans 6-3
TOP TACKLERS: James 39, McQueen 37, Friend 37, Taia 29, Bird 29, Macdonald 26, Paasi 24, Moseley 24.
TOP METRE MAKERS: Bird 203, Hoffman 187, Douglas 184, Paasi 136, Taia 134, James 126, McQueen 123, Shillington 102.
MOST HIT-UPS/RUNS: Bird 21, Douglas 17, James 15, Paasi 15, Taia 15, McQueen 15, Shillington 12, Hoffman 12.
TOP MINUTES (forwards): Taia 84, Bird 70, McQueen 67, James 56, Friend 49, Paasi 39, Shillington 35, Moseley 35, Douglas 37, Pulu 31.