Charles Dickens may have written A Tale of Two Cities, but if he was writing the Titans’ 2019 season review he could very well call it A Tale of Two Halves as the Gold Coast again squandered an excellent lead at Cbus Super Stadium to fall 22-16 to the Bulldogs.
Like the previous week against Cronulla, the Titans were in a commanding position against the Bulldogs – shooting out to a 16-0 lead after just 17 minutes and appearing to have Canterbury on the ropes and two precious competition points at their mercy.
On the same day the nation went to the polls for the federal election, a win against the Bulldogs would have been a vote of confidence for the Titans’ semi-final ambitions.
Instead, the Bulldogs have now leap-frogged the Gold Coast on the NRL ladder, and September looks like a lifetime away.
Like the first half against the Sharks, the Titans looked to have clicked in the opening 20 minutes against the Bulldogs, rattling the Dogs with terrific defence and showing great discipline to say mistake-free and keep the pressure building.
But again things came more unstuck the longer the game wore on, with the Dogs managing to peg the deficit back to 16-12 by halftime, and then banging in two unanswered tries themselves in the second half to escape the Gold Coast with a crucial win.
It was not as if the Titans played badly. In fact, the performances of Jarrod Wallace, Mitch Rein and Brian Kelly were up there with their best of the season, and several other players contributed solidly as well.
But the Titans are still struggling to cope with adversity, are unable to defend errors, and seem to lack the confidence required to dig themselves out of strife.
Coach Garth Brennan sprung a couple of selection surprises before kick-off, looking for a bit more spark from the interchange bench.
Rookie Jesse Arthars (centre), on the back of his promising debut last weekend, and Jack Stockwell (prop) were promoted to the starting side, with Tyrone Peachey and Moeaki Fotuaika moving to the bench.
The changes paid almost immediate dividends, with Kelly shifting to his preferred left-centre position and looking like a new man with a dominant start to the game.
The Titans shot out to a 16-0 lead on the back of two tries to winger Dale Copley, and Kelly was in the thick of it – twice forcing turnovers out of Canterbury with some brutal hits in defence.
His first was on Bulldogs prop Dylan Napa, no small feat against the giant Queensland Origin prop, and the Titans were good enough to capitalise just a minute later, with handy work down the left edge from Jai Arrow and AJ Brimson creating enough room for Copley to crash over in the corner.
In the 10th minute, Kelly’s shoulder produced again – this time knocking the ball free from Will Hopoate.
The formula worked well the first time, so the Titans followed the script again, with a sweeping backline move on the left side giving Copley – who still had a lot of work to do – enough room to get the ball down in the corner.
Ash Taylor was on song with the boot in the absence of regular kicker Michael Gordon, adding two penalty goals as well to give the Titans their 16-point buffer after just 17 minutes.
The lead could have been even greater, with another opportunity presenting itself when Kevin Proctor belted a turnover out of a careless Bulldog, but the bounce of the ball was not kind to Taylor, and a gift try went begging.
While the Titans were good enough to capitalise on the Bulldogs’ errors, Canterbury did not waste their chances when they came either.
The Titans made their first mistake in the 25th minute, with Brimson spilling a high ball, and the Dogs took advantage through Marcelo Montoya.
Eight minutes from the break, the Dogs were in again, this time after catching the Titans’ right-side defence napping to give Jayden Okunbor an express pass to the tryline, cutting the Gold Coast’s lead to a relatively skinny 16-12 at halftime.
But the second half belonged to the Dogs.
Twice inside the final minutes, it looked as though the Titans would have the chance to steal the game after getting possession back through good pressure.
But cruel knock-on calls from the referees killed off the late surge.
BULLDOGS 22 (Jayden Okunbor 2, Marcelo Montoya, Jack Cogger tries; Nick Meaney 3 goals) d TITANS 16 (Dale Copley 2 tries; Ash Taylor 4 goals) at Cbus Super Stadium. Crowd: 10,105