Patience is not something often afforded football clubs but the Gold Coast the Titans have made it perfectly clear immediate success is not a key demand on new coach Justin Holbrook in 2020.
Adopting an under-promise, over-achieve philosophy, the Titans won’t be making any bold predictions of significant ladder climbing in 2020 with the club hierarchy well aware a true regeneration of their roster is required and even a new boss with the magic touch from Super League success needs time to build it his way.
Holbrook and Head of Football Mal Meninga have a mandate to build the club to a successful future and if that means a few more dark days on the field, so be it.
Perhaps the greatest asset going for the Titans this year is that every player is on notice. No one is safe. Contract renewal will be brutal. Buy in or get out. Mediocrity has no place on the Gold Coast and while Holbrook intends to squeeze every ounce of commitment and effort from his squad, he may just reveal a few more competitive footballers than first thought and develop a handy team capable of giving the top eight a shake.
The 2020 outlook
The biggest change at the Titans is the coaching staff. New coach Holbrook has added assistants Jim Dymock and Jim Lenihan to give the club a fresh outlook and direction. The Titans have added some depth to their squad but otherwise their best 13 looks awfully similar to last year’s outfit – right down to the season-ending knee injury to prop Ryan James.
The promotion of AJ Brimson to fullback duties permanently and the return of Ashley Taylor after an interrupted year battling mental health issues gives the Titans hope they can improve on 2019 and prove the doubters wrong.
Taylor: I was ready to walk away
Everything looks tough when you’re coming from the basement, but the first six weeks of the season really is as brutal as it gets for the Titans. Opening the year away to the 2019 runners-up Canberra Raiders, the Titans then host Parramatta and the Broncos before heading south to face reigning premiers the Roosters.
Melbourne and Manly complete a three-week away stretch and season-opening six-pack against six 2019 finalists that really could leave the Titans’ season staggering.
The stat that gives you hope
Wipe 2019 from the memory. Not much good can come from reflecting upon it. Go back to 2018 when Ash Taylor was the talk of the NRL. His 18 try assists for the season ranked only behind Johnathan Thurston (23) and Luke Keary (21) for most in the NRL.
Taylor still banked six try assists in 10 games last season, but without him for most of the year the Titans just lacked attacking intent and variation. All preseason training indicates he looks and sounds like the 2018 version of himself and his positive start at the NRL Nines, where the Titans reached the semis, shows Taylor at least is in for a better 2020.
Peachey: 'The toughest season I've had'
What you need to know NRL Fantasy wise
AJ Brimson ($462k) is ready to step up as the Gold Coast's first-choice fullback and will be great value if he can get his scoring about 40 points a game (where it was in 2018). Moeaki Fotuaika ($578k) is another rising star and will be called upon to get through a lot of work up front following another devastating Ryan James injury, while Ash Taylor ($495k) looked great at the NRL Nines and will be a bargain if he can hit 45 points a game.
Justin Holbrook enters his first NRL season as a head coach, but coming off a Super League premiership with St Helens the former Sydney Roosters assistant is no stranger to success. Boasting an 80 per cent win record in the UK, Holbrook is seen as the man to rebuild the Titans for future glory.
The 2020 season shapes as a free hit for the NRL rookie, but if the Titans are within reach of the finals late in the season, Holbrook’s first year will be deemed a success.
Holbrook urges Titans to move on after 'devastating' loss of James
With Jai Arrow off to South Sydney in 2021, the Titans have several big names all fighting for new deals in 2020. Fullback AJ Brimson has re-signed which was the top priority, now Meninga then must address the headache of several veterans wanting new deals.
Former NSW Origin hooker Nathan Peats headlines the list, along with injured skipper Ryan James, Kiwi Test backrower Kevin Proctor, plus consistent trio Tyrone Roberts, Anthony Don and Dale Copley. Youngster Phillip Sami, Sam Stone and Keegan Hipgrave also remain unsigned for 2021.
The burning question
Will Ashley Taylor rediscover his love of rugby league and the form that had him pegged as a future superstar halfback of the NRL to guide the Titans from the cellar to finalists? He is by no means the only player needing a big lift in 2020 – Tyrone Peachey, Bryce Cartwright, Shannon Boyd, Jarrod Wallace and Nathan Peats all need big seasons – but Taylor is the money man capable of taking this team into the finals if he fires.
Taylor praises Holbrook
Breakout player to watch
AJ Brimson showed patches of brilliance last season and with a permanent move into the No.1 jersey following the retirement of veteran Michael Gordon, this could be the real coming of age season for the 21-year-old playmaker. Blessed with both ball-playing ability and blinding speed, it’s obvious why this talented local junior has been summonsed into the Queensland Emerging Origin squad and is pegged as a Maroons utility in the near future.
“It (2019) was probably the toughest season I’ve had in first grade. I definitely did learn a lot and the Titans supported me through that and I owe it to them to have a good year ... I just want to have a big year and do something special."
- Tyrone Peachey