A scintillating NRL debut for Beau Fermor and the continued fine form of Corey Thompson were the bright points for the Titans in a disappointing 40-10 mauling by the Sharks at Cbus Super Stadium.
After a first 40 that was all about fantastic footy and Fermor, the Titans lost their way in the early stages of the second half with a raft of errors that prevented them from building any pressure, while allowing Cronulla’s big men to march their way down the middle of the field at will.
It was a disappointing homecoming for the Titans in their first game of the year in front of spectators at Cbus Super Stadium, but it is clear the club’s enormous injury toll is really starting to hit home on Justin Holbrook’s battle-scarred squad.
Cronulla led 12-10 at halftime, and in all honesty were lucky to be in front. But they hit top gear from the opening whistle of the second half, and were never threatened.
The Titans endured the week from hell on the injury front, losing skipper Kevin Proctor (bicep) and Phil Sami (shoulder) during the week, and then centre Brian Kelly (quad) on match morning after he failed to recover from the injury he picked up against the Broncos last weekend.
That meant the Titans took to the field with a halfback at fullback, a fullback at wing, two backrowers in the centres, a debutant in the second row and two hookers on the bench.
Worse, Mitch Rein (knee) left the field injured after only 30 minutes.
Add that to the Titans’ existing injured list – which includes Ryan James, AJ Brimson, Young Tonumaipea and Dale Copley – and you get an idea of how desperate things are for the Titans at the moment.
That’s eight top-liners potentially sidelined.
Despite this, the Titans bounced out of the blocks again, and looked to have grabbed an early lead through Corey Thompson with a searing 30-metre run full of energy and enthusiasm to get to the line.
Unfortunately, the video referee ruled Tyrone Peachey had knocked in the lead-up, and Thompson’s massive effort went unrewarded.
The Sharks banged over an early try, but fittingly it was Thompson who pegged it back with an effort even better than the first – an 85-metre screamer to get the Titans back level at 6-all after 25 minutes.
Thompson seized on a dropped ball from the Sharks, and scampered, using great evasion and determination to escape two defenders before planting the ball in-goal.
It was a huge play from Thompson for two reasons. Firstly, it got the Titans on the board. Secondly, Sharks attacking ace Matt Moylan did a hamstring while giving chase.
The Sharks kicked clear again with another try, but the Titans – buoyed by the long-range success they had with Thompson’s try and started throwing bombs from inside their half.
New kid on the block Fermor was the one reaping the rewards, running off some lovely passes from Taylor and targeting Shaun Johnson in defence to split the Sharks’ right-side defence open.
Fermor tore 40-metres downfield in the 35th minute, looking every part the genuine running backrower Titans fans have been craving.
Fermor put the Titans on the front foot, and when they pinged the ball to the right, Tyrone Roberts brought his playmaking skills to the fore, delivering a sweet pass that cut-out two Cronulla defenders and put Anthony Don over in the corner.
The Dalby Devils junior blasted through the same hole just before halftime to give the Titans a sniff of snatching the lead at the break, but with support everywhere, he looked left when he should have looked right, and the opportunity went begging.
It was, as they say in the classics, a rookie error – and you don’t get much more of a rookie than a guy playing his first game while replacing the injured captain.
But Fermor and the Titans both showed what they are capable of in an entertaining first 40 minutes that earned a deserved round of applause from the 1995-strong crowd at halftime.
But the second half was a 40 minutes the Titans will be in a hurry to forget.
SHARKS 40 (Hamlin-Uele, Andrew Fifita, Briton Nikora, Blayke Brailey, Chad Townsend, Royce Hunt, Bryson Goodwin tries; Shaun Johnson 6 goals) d TITANS 10 (Corey Thompson, Anthony Don tries; Ash Taylor goal) at Cbus Super Stadium. Crowd: 1995.