A Shallow Dive into the 2021 Gold Coast Titans

The Titans of the Gold Coast finished in the top eight for the first time since 2016 and for the first time without a team above getting a points deduction for cap breaches since 2010. In both 2016 and 2021, the Titans had losing records, 10-14 being the mark this year. More promisingly, the Titans finished with just a -3 points difference. In terms of Pythagorean expectation, their record should have been a lot closer to 12-12 than 10-14. That alone suggests that next year, they’ll do better which is good because the Titans weren’t great this year.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

Lots of people got excited about the Titans after a strong finish to 2020 and started extrapolating big things for the Gold Coast side in 2021. I rallied against that, citing the fact that the Titans had a terrible start to the season (they were 3-6 and below the Broncos on the ladder after round 9) and only started picking up momentum as other teams gave up under the crushing weight of pandemic-induced malaise. Moreover, their Pythagorean outlook is negative on a losing record. These are terrible omens and it is suggestive that the fundamentals might need a little more work before we start getting too ahead of ourselves and tipping premierships.

However, I am just about ready to flip on that position. Since 2020, the Titans have signed David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui on big bucks and Patrick Herbert on presumably slightly lesser bucks. With those signings, strong seasons from Jamal Fogarty, Ash Taylor, Mo Fotuaika and AJ Brimson, then better things beckon. Looking down the team list, there’s a few weaker points but on the whole, looks quite good. The Titans have the strongest pack in the league and in overall Taylor terms, are on par with the Knights and Raiders.

Still, Holbrook had a bit of a dud season and that’s been glossed over thanks to a strong finish. A charitable interpretation is this is indicative of him getting his system sorted out mid-season and a less charitable one is that maybe he got lucky. Brimson has been somewhat injury prone. Fogarty can play but we need to see it again to know he’s reliably capable of reaching that level, instead of a one-hit wonder. Without Fogarty producing, Taylor is going to flail about ineffectively as we’ve seen so many times in recent years. If these pieces aren’t in place, then Fotuaika, Fifita and Fa’asuamaleaui don’t really matter.

I wouldn’t be surprised with a mid-table finish, somewhere in the range of seventh to tenth position with a 12-12 record plus or minus a win.

Well, well, well. Mid-table finish, huh? Halves flailing about, hmm? Pythagorean outlook indicating a losing record, you say?

It’s called the Victory Lap for a reason and the Titans had fit into that Knights rebuilding mold so perfectly that it was impossible to ignore. I wish I’d stuck to my guns with a little more resolution and tipped them to miss the finals because that’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion for a team with a 10-14 record but I never saw Vlandoball coming (well, not like that anyway). Their winning percentage in 2021 is actually lower than in 2020 but because they made the finals, no one will notice or care and they’ll probably offer Justin Holbrook an extension (although he seems to have done pretty well this year).

What happened

We could go through the season but I think we all know that the Titans were a bit rubbish. What I want to do is break down the most, and definitely last, Titans play of the Titans season.

Beau Fermor makes a break with 43 seconds on the clock, down just one point.

40 metres further down the field, Fermor makes an error of judgement under pressure from Tedesco. He should have drawn and passed or run towards the goal posts, and instead he cut inside and sort of ran into his teammate and left Phillip Sami nowhere to go.

Sami gets tackled 15 metres out. It’s ok though because there’s 36 seconds left on the clock and four tackles. Plenty of time to set up for an equalising field goal or go for a winning try. Although, note the lack of support runners in shot.

Reinforcements arrive. The ball is sent wide to the other side of the field. Jamal Fogarty pirouettes instead of engaging the line. Patrick Herbert has David Fifita, noted monster, on his right shoulder. Surely he just has to get Fifita the ball and let him barge over.

Herbert hangs on to the ball and runs at the line, depriving Fifita of any space or a line he could run, which is an interesting strategy. Even at the point of the above frame, he could still salvage the play. Let’s see how it plays out.

It’s not looking good for ol Patty. A desperate offload is all he has, having been wrapped up by Josh Morris and Daniel Tupou.

Worse, it appears that Corey Thompson has already over run the point he could receive the offload.

Thompson tries to get to the ball.

He does not get there.

The road to disaster has many offramps.

There’s always next year

Does anyone want to guess how much cap space the Titans have left? The forward pack is fine, if lacking a bit of coaching polish and optimal utilisation, but the backline and especially the spine has holes. Brimson is good but not great. Fogarty is fine but has his down points. Taylor’s not coming back. Where does Jayden Campbell fit in? Who is playing 9 next year? Is Shallin Fuller good enough to start next year?

The Titans, in lieu of making big name signings because they presumably can’t afford to, are stuck between the choice of running with who they already have, and getting broadly the same results, or bringing in fresh blood and hoping that works. The latter strategy is, of course, how the Storm operate and the Titans’ feeders finished the Queensland Cup in third and fourth position. That the Titans have noticed that and signed the most promising youngsters out of Tweed and Burleigh is a positive.

The Gold Coast sit in a pretty decent position in terms of roster and pathways. I’m yet to be convinced that Holbrook knows what he’s doing, certainly not in a premiership-aspiring sense. If they continue in the Knights path, they’ve come from the bottom, had their year of overperformance, had their year of regression to the mean and now look set to win a justified place at the finals table in 2022. After that, who knows? They may flounder like the Knights and become week 1 cannon fodder or they may find a way to take that next step.