RACHEL HANCOCK

Editor, Gold Coast Bulletin

 

Rugby league legend Preston Campbell has issued an emotional plea to the people of the Gold Coast to “put their arms around” the Titans, as external forces continue to try to pull the NRL club out of our city.

As former Melbourne Storm CEO Chris Johns slammed the city of the Gold Coast as “a hick town” lacking the soul or substance to sustain any team in a national sporting competition, Campbell has penned a personal letter to the people of the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers to unite behind the Titans.

“Watching from a distance and the talk or the chatter that’s been going on out in the community, I think sometimes we forget how important a national sporting team is to the Gold Coast,” Campbell said.

“Whether it’s rugby league or AFL, it’s just about creating that sporting community on the Gold Coast, and we need national sporting teams to be able to do that.

“I just wanted to pen something and let the guys know at the club, how much I appreciated my time at the club and how important they are, not just to the NRL, but how important they are – or should be – to the Gold Coast.

“The biggest thing is that the boys aren’t showing any results on the field.

“Like anything in life, whether it’s a rugby league team, whether it’s your work, or in business, you come across those hard times and difficult times and what we need to do is get around each other, encourage each other and support each other through those tough times.

“I just felt we haven’t been seeing that from the Gold Coast community, and it’s just unfortunate because without the Gold coast community, it’s really hard to have a Gold Coast team.”

A proud Gold Coaster, few people in Australian sport can match Campbell’s reputation as a champion on and off the field.

After making his NRL debut for the Gold Coast Chargers in 1998, Campbell was forced to head to Sydney when the Chargers were closed down because of a lack of support later that year.

From there he beat Immortal Andrew Johns for the title of Dally M Medal winner as player of the year in 2001, won a premiership with Penrith in 2003, and was the very first player signed by the Titans for the Gold Coast’s return to the NRL in 2007.

He was also the creator of the Indigenous All Stars concept, which returns to its spiritual home at Cbus Super Stadium next year.

Campbell is now an ambassador for the Titans and a major contributor to the Gold Coast community through his charity work with the Preston Campbell Foundation.

Campbell said while the Titans were doing it tough on the field, the work the club was doing for the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers region in areas like Indigenous education, women’s sport, Physical Disabilities Rugby League, and grassroots sport would be lost if the Titans had to leave the Coast.

“I have always said, if there was an award for work in community, the Gold Coast would get it every year,” Campbell said. “But unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.

“That’s just part of what the club has to offer and they have done great work in the community since day dot, 2007. That was part of the fabric, and still is.

“What the Gold Coast Titans have been able to offer off the field has been amazing, and I just wish people could see that. It’s really, really hard to put that in a story and it’s really hard to articulate that. They just need to get involved and actually see what’s going on and they would be amazed.”

The Titans were unwittingly dragged into rugby league’s expansion debate, and had the club’s future called into question, when news broke that broadcaster Channel 9 wanted a new team to be based in Brisbane as part of the next TV rights agreement.

Sydney clubs Manly and Cronulla were mentioned as possible targets to relocate to Brisbane, and the Titans – by virtue of their geography and lack of on-field results this season – were dragged into the argument as well, even though Nine is pushing for more Queensland clubs, not less.

The debate flared again yesterday when the Gold Coast Bulletin reported inflammatory quotes from Johns, a former Broncos premiership player, who attacked the city of the Gold Coast and its residents as “hicks”.

Despite being Australia’s sixth-largest city, Johns dismissed the Gold Coast as “a little market” with a reputation for killing elite sporting clubs, not worthy of hosting more than “a couple of games” every year.

“The Gold Coast is a little hick town,” Johns said. “To try to run a national team down there has proven in the past to be difficult.

“They have had the Giants, the Seagulls and the Chargers. It’s not just this (Titans) organisation that has failed, every organisation has failed because they look too small. They have to aim big.

“Rename them Gold Coast-Brisbane or Greater Brisbane Titans, embrace the whole of southeast Queensland but play a couple of games down there (Gold Coast) where there is a little market.”

Campbell said the Gold Coast was readmitted to the NRL in 2007 on the back of massive public support that forced the league to acknowledge the city’s place as a heartland of the game.

Campbell said the city needed to rediscover that spirit to prove the Gold Coast belonged in the NRL, and said the competition was full of stories where clubs had rapidly risen from the bottom to success on the back of support from their local communities.

“I just remember sitting in a room, we got called into a room, I think it was 1998 and they told us that the Gold Coast Chargers weren’t going to be around anymore,” Campbell said.

“Personally it was pretty scary, because I didn’t know where I was going to go and I had planned to be on the Gold coast for at least a couple of years being contracted to the Chargers. But to be told that there wasn’t going to be a team left on the Gold Coast, it was pretty scary.

“I know for about nine years, they worked really, really hard to get a team back on the Gold Coast and it just doesn’t make sense that now they are talking about not having a team on the Gold Coast anymore.

“The positive is that there is no other way we can go at the moment than up, and there is a new season going to be coming around.

“We haven’t gone all that well this year, but things can turn around pretty quickly.

“You look at teams like Parramatta sitting up near the top four, and last year I think they finished wooden-spooners.

“That’s just the way it happens, and that all comes about with players and culture and that’s something the club is really working on.

“I just hope people can keep putting their hands up and turning up, and just supporting the club.”

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