Former Gold Coast captain Wally Lewis says the occasion of Paul Gallen’s final game at Suncorp Stadium is the perfect reason for Queenslanders to unite behind the Titans in their clash against the Sharks to kick-off the NRL’s Magic Round on Thursday night.
Gallen and fellow Sharks forward Andrew Fifita were in a typically incendiary mood ahead of their clash with the Titans, with antagonistic comments that have turned up the heat on the Magic Round opener.
In comments that will rile Gold Coast members and fans, Fifita took an unsubtle swipe at Titans fans, telling The Sydney Morning Herald he expected to see more people at Suncorp Stadium supporting Cronulla than Gold Coast.
“We played on the Gold Coast and we had more fans than them last year,” Fifita told the paper.
“I didn't realise we had that many Sharks fans in Queensland. They turn up.”
Gallen, for his part, doubled-down on the disrespect, challenging the “two-heads” from Queensland to boo him in his last appearance at Suncorp Stadium because it “inspired” him to play better.
Lewis, who ruled Suncorp Stadium as the “Emperor of Lang Park” for more than a decade, said he expected Queenslanders to unite in their support behind the Titans to make sure Gallen’s last visit to the venue was an unhappy one.
“Queenslanders normally stick together pretty well, and this is a tough assignment for the Gold Coast – playing on a Thursday night with a short turn-around, and coming up against a Sharks team that is riding high after having a good win against Melbourne last weekend,” Lewis said.
“It is the chance for Queensland footy fans to not only show their support and respect for the Titans, but also say ‘farewell’ to Gal – in whichever way they choose to do that.
“I am sure the Titans will have plenty of support, and that will lift them as well.”
Titans members and fans are doing their bit to support their team – and make Fifita eat his words – with more than 1300 supporters heading up the M1 in a fleet of 26 chartered buses to cheer on the Gold Coast.
But Lewis, a former captain and coach of the Gold Coast Seagulls between 1991-1993, warned Titans players they would need to be on high alert for a vintage display from Gallen if the crowd was hostile against the Cronulla captain.
“I am sure Paul is probably hoping for that as much as anyone, because he does tend to react well in those pressure situations,” he said.
“I was talking to him when we were doing The Sunday Footy Show together, and we were talking about how we were the two most hated players from each state.
“But the funny thing was, I loved every bit of it as a player. Those games when you were struggling to get in the right frame of mind, as soon as the fans started giving you a spray, you were ready to go straightaway.
“Paul is the same. Being booed will inspire him – and the big bloke up front, Fifita.
“Whether you love him or hate him, Gal has put bums on seats at rugby league games. The game needs characters, and even if that character plays the role of the villain, it still has a magnetic attraction for fans.”
Lewis said he had been impressed with what he had seen from the Titans so far this season, despite last weekend’s unlucky loss to the Cowboys relegating them to a 2-6 start to the season.
And the rugby league Immortal suspects self-belief is the only weapon missing from the Titans’ arsenal as they fight to get their finals campaign back on track against the Sharks.
“The loss to the Wests Tigers (in Round 7) was a very expensive game for the Titans, not just because they lost two competition points, but because of the severe damage that was done to their confidence,” Lewis said.
“That has been one of their real issues this season I think, because prior to that, the Coast were looking terrific in the way they beat Newcastle.
“It looked like they were full of self-belief, that they had the ability to go out there and take control of a game.
“That has been a problem that has been bothering the Coast for a long time – just being able to get in the mindset that they believe they can control games. They need to believe that they are good enough to put back-to-back wins together, and do that consistently.
“It is a wonderful thing, self-belief. A lot of people would love to be able to buy it at the shop.
“There were good signs that had regained that self-belief against the Cowboys. What they need to do now is make sure that they don’t lose that confidence because they lost the game and had some tough calls go against them.
“The Titans need to realise they are genuine contenders for the finals. When they remember that, they play their best footy, and that then feeds their self-belief.”