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NRL 2009 - the run home: Titans

July 1st 2009 08:17

John Cartwright’s men have found themselves in a similar position in 2007 and 2008, only to falter on the stretch and miss the finals both years. Riding high in equal-first, the Titans have a golden opportunity to bury the memories of those fadeouts and qualify for their maiden post-regular season campaign. As they did in their first two years, injuries are beginning to be a major disruption for the Gold Coast, and a large share of the load will fall on the club’s brilliant crop of rookies to help Prince, Campbell, Friend and Laffranchi get them home.

Best performance:
The 18-6 victory over the Storm at Olympic Park ranks as one of the best wins by any Gold Coast team. The Scott Prince-less Titans never looked like letting this one slip against the decade’s dominant team.

Worst performance: In only one match could the Titans be accused of playing poorly: a 34-20 defeat at the hands of Penrith in Round 7.

Stars: Hard to pinpoint individuals – the Titans’ success so far in 2009 has been the result of an outstanding all-round team effort. Scott Prince has again been superb, but unlike other seasons, his side hasn’t capitulated in his absence. Preston Campbell has been equal parts brilliant and courageous at fullback, and filled in admirably for Prince when needed. Nathan Friend has been so good the club has had to rethink its decision to let the determined hooker leave the holiday strip, while evergreen forwards Ashley Harrison and Brad Meyers deserve all the plaudits they have been receiving.

Disappointments: While his form has been solid by a regular NRL forward’s standards, Anthony Laffranchi has not quite had the same impact that saw him make his Origin and Test debuts in 2008, and he has consequently lost his place in the NSW team. Tipped as a future superstar, livewire outside back Shannon Walker has been leapfrogged into first grade by several exciting youngsters, and his young career is already looking critical.

Surprise packets:
Chris Walker is battling it out with Stacey Jones for the title of Best NRL Comeback of 2009. A wretched few seasons with injury has followed a series of disasters off the field, but the former-Queensland speedster appears in tip-top shape in body and mind and has cemented a spot on the flank, despite fierce competition from his younger rivals.

Recruits: Despite being unable to grab a regular starting spot, electrifying former-Raider William Zillman has been a handy bench option, and limited game-time has not diminished his tryscoring ability. Matt White has been a great front-row buy, but ex-Storm tyro Sam Tagatese has barely been sighted.

The Titans’ production line of thrilling outside back prospects is remarkable. Firstly 19-year old Kevin Gordon burst onto the scene with scintillating pace and a dangerous swerve, and now David Mead, who was outstanding for PNG in last year’s World Cup, is biting at Chris Walker’s heels after a couple a brilliant outings. Both would rank among the NRL’s fastest players.

Injury impact: The Titans have been hit harder than most. Missing from their next match will be Origin forwards Luke Bailey and Ashley Harrison, back-row star Mark Minichiello and key utility Luke O’Dwyer, while injury has interrupted the seasons of Mat Rogers and Prince, among others.

The big elephant in the room at the moment is the Titans’ injury toll, but beyond that a finals berth appears a mere formality. A top-4 spot would be ideal given their formidable record at Skilled Park, but despite their position on the table, the Gold Coast seem to be a step behind the Dragons, Bulldogs and Storm in the premiership stakes.

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