Titans 2016 Season Reviewnrl
When Neil Henry set about overhauling the Titans roster 12 months ago he went looking for people, not players.
He wanted men in the organisation who would bring a professionalism to what the playing group did on and off the field and who would set an example for the youngsters coming up through the junior ranks.
Foundation player Nathan Friend supplemented his meagre one-year deal with days on the job site laying bricks while the likes of Zeb Taia and Chris McQueen brought a hard, uncompromising edge to the forward pack.
He also needed strength and conditioning staff who could mould this new-look squad into a team that got stronger as other teams wilted and brought in Matt Ford from Canberra and Sean Edwards from South Sydney.
These were the building blocks behind a season in which the Titans defied the bookmakers and basically every so-called expert in the game who said they would finish dead last.
With wins over the Knights and Wests Tigers in their first two home games they showed Gold Coast footy fans that if they bought a ticket they'd see their team compete and the mid-season additions of Konrad Hurrell, Nathan Peats and Jarryd Hayne added star power to a club that had recently struggled to attract any.
A five-game losing streak from Round 5 threatened to derail their season and prove the pundits correct but with Greg Bird and Ryan James leading the way up front and Ashley Taylor and Nene Macdonald enjoying breakout seasons, momentum began to build again.
A golden-point win in Perth over the Rabbitohs in Round 13 was significant and an 18-all draw that ended the Sharks' 15-game winning streak showed they deserved to be taken seriously and they were rewarded with a first finals appearance in six years.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the Elimination Final against arch rivals Brisbane but they still fought on and only trailed by 12 points 14 minutes from full-time before losing 44-28.
For a club that was on its knees 18 months ago, the Titans are now standing proudly on their own two feet.
Where they excelled: Whether it was his way of getting the most out of a roster that most pundits had little regard for, coach Neil Henry drilled into his players the importance of ball control without stripping them of their creativity. Although they were among the top two or three teams for completion rate all season, this was no tuck-it-under-your-arm-at-all-times footy. Players such as Zeb Taia (32 offloads), Agnatius Paasi (22), Greg Bird (21) and Leivaha Pulu (21) were always looking for ways to promote the footy and generate second-phase play, the Titans ranking sixth for total offloads. When Gold Coast completed at north of 80 per cent they were in games right up to their ears, which was almost every week.
Where they struggled: It's testimony to the spirit that was within the team in 2016 that the Titans were able to finish with a positive points differential despite missing more tackles than every other team other than the Knights. They regularly looked frail on the edges but time and again had teammates coming across in cover to shut the opposition down. And even though the addition of Konrad Hurrell late in the season would have given them a boost the Titans still ranked last for tackle breaks with just 551 (Raiders were top with 794).
Missing in action: Prop David Shillington was recruited from Canberra to add some size and experience up front but injuries and inconsistency meant that the Titans rarely saw the best of the former Test front-rower. He lifted enormously for a tilt at his former club in Round 4 (try, 154 metres, 24 tackles) and ran for 196m against the Dragons in the Round 7 loss but after returning from injury couldn't cement his place in the team. He showed uncharacteristic ill discipline against the Tigers in the crucial Round 23 clash and then came up with eight missed tackles in a 45-minute display against the Knights. The club will be hoping for more in 2017.
Turning point: A bright start to the year had subsided under the weight of six losses from seven games as the Titans prepared for an unprecedented two-week road trip to Perth and Darwin. Come home empty-handed and halfway through the season a finals prospect would seem increasingly unlikely. With torrential rain hammering nib Stadium in Perth the Titans caught the Rabbitohs on the hop and raced out to an 18-0 lead early into the second half. But the Bunnies bounced back and levelled scores at 28-apiece at full-time before rookie Ashley Taylor stepped forward to nail the first field goal of his career seven minutes into extra time. The win lifted the Titans back into the top eight and gave them the confidence to stay there.
Hold your head high: When a side overachieves (in the eyes of outsiders) as the Titans did in 2016 you need contributions from everyone who takes the field but there's no question that the emergence of Ashley Taylor held Gold Coast's season together. When Kane Elgey ruptured his ACL on the first day of training in 2016 the Titans' hopes of being at least competitive were draped over the shoulders of a 20-year-old with 29 minutes of first grade to his name. He responded in magnificent fashion, growing into his role and forming a well-balanced combination with Tyrone Roberts. He topped the team in try assists (12) and line-break assists (10), kicked goals when called upon at 76.5 per cent and displayed a calmness under pressure rare for someone so young. A special talent.
2017 crystal ball: Can they back it up? Can the Titans – with the addition of superstars in Jarryd Hayne and Konrad Hurrell and imminent arrival of Jarrod Wallace (Broncos) and Dan Sarginson (Wigan) – play with the same spirit that has defined their 2016 campaign? With Elgey back in the ranks the roster looks as good as it ever has but it will be the intangibles that will determine whether they can take what they have achieved this season and turn it into something resembling a premiership threat.
Conclusion: On and off the field 2016 will be remembered as a year of tremendous success for the Titans. The last four home games all attracted crowds in excess of 14,000, a feat the club hadn't achieved since 2012 and the signing of Hayne electrified a city that was already beginning to fall in love with their football team again. A crowd of 530 turned out to watch them train ahead of their Elimination Final against the Broncos and with world-class facilities to be ready and waiting for them at Parkwood when pre-season begins in November the Titans are a club on the up and up.
Position: Eighth (Lost in Elimination Final)
Home Record: 5-6 (one draw)
Away Record: 6-6
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Round 10-11, 13)
Longest Losing Streak: 5 (Round 5-9)
Players Used: 29
Tries Scored: 88
Tries Conceded: 86
This article first appeared on NRL.com