The Titans were again buried beneath a landslide of defensive fatigue in crashing to a 36-6 loss to the Cowboys at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
While the Titans had a new look and were aiming for a fresh start after the COVID-19 layoff it was the familiar cocktail of errors and a lack of possession that again proved lethal to hopes of a Gold Coast victory.
Once again, the Titans played exceptionally well in patches, and a number of players produced some magic moments of individual brilliance.
Moe Fotuaika was enormous, and Dale Copley, Kevin Proctor, Keegan Hipgrave and Jai Arrow all put their hands up.
But as a team, they are yet to find the consistency they need to control a match and force a result.
With the new rules in effect for the restarted season, the Titans needed to be disciplined if they were to stop North Queensland’s monster pack from steamrolling their way across the park.
The Titans were able to go toe-to-toe with the Cowboys in the first half, despite a mountain of possession against them.
They fought and scrapped hard, worked stoically in defence, and showed real enterprise and creativity with the ball on occasions.
But that stockpile of fatigue was like an anchor around their necks in the second half and the Cowboys were able to cruise home comfortably.
The Titans continue to beat themselves. Against the Cowboys, it was almost literal with Jonus Pearson and Phil Sami and then Kevin Proctor and Jai Arrow damaging themselves in friendly fire collisions.
Even what looked like being one positive to take away from the game – a try to fairytale halfback Jamal Fogarty with a piece of individual brilliance two minutes from fulltime – was soured when it was ruled there was an obstruction from Shannon Boyd in the lead-up.
The Titans trailed 14-6 at halftime after a mixed-bag of a first half, with some confident and creative play from the Gold Coast ultimately spoiled by errors and poor last-tackle options that let the Cowboys off the hook.
The start to the game was a nightmare for the Titans, with an early knock-on from Tyrone Peachey inadvertently leading to an avalanche of possession for North Queensland which strangled the Gold Coast out of the contest.
The Titans effectively did not touch the ball in the first nine minutes of the game as unlucky errors, line drop-outs and two restarted sets under the new “six again” rule conspired to starve the visitors of possession.
The NRL’s rule changes have been designed to bring fatigue into the game, and the Titans were following the script with a mountain of tackling before Cowboys winger Ben Hampton broke through for the first try in the ninth minute.
But, even though they must have felt like it in the Townsville humidity, the Titans did not lie down, with the middle forwards working heroically to carry their team back into the game.
Jai Arrow went close to scoring in the 13th minute but was held up, but the Titans broke through only a minute later when Brian Kelly, a late call-up on the wing, scored out wide.
Kelly produced an immaculate pirouette to completely baffle the Cowboys defenders with no room to work in, creating one for the end-of-year highlights reel.
Ash Taylor’s conversion hit the spot and the Titans levelled the scores, and from there you could see their confidence and self-belief growing – perfectly highlighted minutes later by Kelly and Sami executing an audacious pass behind the line to get out of the in-goal area.
But another poor attacking kick, and a poorer attempt to clean it up, allowed the Cowboys to roll 80 metres downfield to score and take the lead again – a lead they pushed out to an eight-point buffer at the break.
COWBOYS 36 (Reece Robson 2, Ben Hampton 2, Justin O’Neill, Kyle Feldt tries; Valentine Holmes 6 goals) d TITANS 6 (Brian Kelly tries; Ash Taylor goals) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville.