Your men’s Gold Coast Titans finished thirteenth (really, that high?) with a 6-18 record and a -205 points difference. Conceding at a rate of 27.5 points per game, the Titans had the fourth worst defence in the NRL (behind two teams that fired their coach and one that will in the next year) and the third worst of any Gold Coast team in the top flight, going back to 1988; only the 1994 and 1995 teams conceded more than 28. The Titans scored 19.0 points per game, the best of the bottom five in the NRL and only ninth worst in the Gold Coast’s history. Their Pythagorean expectation was good enough for 7.9 wins, a noticeable underperformance.
Your women’s Gold Coast Titans finished sixth with a 1-4 record and a -60 points difference. The Titans have secured their first spoon with an anemic attack of only 58 points total and the worst defence in the league.
The Victory Lap
From the men’s pre-season deep dive:
It should not be lost on the fans, the media (although it will be) and the wider world that a team that loses fourteen games and only wins ten is not normally post-season material…
They let their captain go to the Raiders for more money. Their former million dollar man found a better offer at the Warriors, washed for all money and the Titans unable or unwilling to redeem their pet project. They don’t seem to have an actual first grade hooker. Is it Erin Clark? There’s a lot of cap tied up in David Fifita (whose early season form kept the Titans from being a real disaster zone) and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, which means they’re going to rely on some combination of prospects – Brimson, Sexton, Campbell, Boyd, maybe even Shallin Fuller – to deliver wins and where have we seen that go wrong lately?
Outside of some strong forwards, it’s all just so flimsy. Some clubs would be able to make this work or dig themselves out of this hole and some coaches could probably apply a magic touch to spellbind this into a coherent team. Based on their history to date, the Titans are probably not that club and Justin Holbrook is probably not that coach.
The Titans are not that club and Justin Holbrook is not that coach.
Then from the second women’s pre-season deep dive:
It’s a little difficult to get a read on the Titans, not least because this team sits at the shrivellingly small nexus of interest that exists between Titans football and women’s football. The squad assembled for last season didn’t seem to have anything in particular to recommend it but, nonetheless, beat the Broncos and finished with a winning record. We could attribute this partly to the coaching of Jamie Feeney, which might be an issue as he is now out and Karyn Murphy is now in…
The Titans’ retention rate is very good, so we should see a similar level of performance out of the Gold Coast this season. A winning record and a finals appearance are definitely not out of the question. A surprise on the upside would see them in the grand final and at that point, anything can happen on the day. A potential spinal adjustment and new coach may take a bit of settling in, so I would not be surprised to see them lose their first and last games but win the ones in between.
The Titans never did look like they quite got settled in with the new spine and the season being what it is, didn’t have the time to waste. They did lose their first and last games but also two of the three in between.
Combined, the Titans teams finished with the lowest club regular season winning percentage (.241) since the introduction of the NRLW, below even the 2020 Broncos whose men’s and women’s teams won the same number of games (.260). Other than that, these were two ordinary teams that were bad but not in a particularly interesting way.
More games should help in 2023 but, given the constraints on the season, it’s not encouraging that the women’s Titans were unable to rip in and get the job done when the Broncos looked weak and the Eels were inexperienced. They ran the Knights closer than they had a right to but were crushed by the Roosters, Dragons and Broncos. Some of that can be attributed to new coach, Karyn Murphy, finding her feet.
Bringing Lauren Brown into the women’s side should have been a major boost, enough to take them from third into contention. Instead they went backwards and it never looked like Brown was all that comfortable at 7, although this improved as the season went on. While I thought Evania Pelite would be the first choice fullback, she can do the job at centre, but flip flopping her with Apii Nicholls wouldn’t have helped the cohesion of a backline that struggled to generate points, cracking 12 only once.
The pack also needs a closer inspection. The NRLW average team generated 1393 running metres. The Titans could only average 1222, a hundred metres less than the next worst Dragons (1325), which is a substantial advantage to be handing out to the opposition every game.
On the men’s side, we’ve seen enough to know Holbrook ain’t it. The Titans are 25-43 under his leadership and haven’t had a winning season. He doesn’t seem to be able to find his best lineup and stick with it, nor motivate the players that he does have. He hasn’t shown any improvement and, if anything seems to be getting worse, going from two seasons one game off .500 to a completely unnecessary spoon battle with the Tigers and finishing behind a team that did punt its coach.
Holbrook hasn’t hit the -50 change from start to finish that typically signals a dead duck but in the space of a season, he’s gone from an unimpeachable position to a bad run to Magic Round 2023 from being sacked. Note the difference from his peak, achieved late in 2021, to the Titan’s current rating and compare to where he started.
As Brad Arthur demonstrates, taking over a team that in straits that dire should be the easiest thing in the world to make yourself look good, and Holbrook just can’t do it.
Worse, the Titans have fired his two predecessors for less. Coach Factor is the gap between a player’s actual performance and their pre-season projection, summed up over a season and normalised against league average, of which half is attributed to the head coach. While individual seasons can be up and down, over time, the good coaches get more out of their players than expected and accumulate Coach Factor and the bad ones don’t. Justin Holbrook is highlighted in black, while Henry and Brennan are highlighted in blue.
Titans fans, such as they are, have had to ensure a lot of mediocre football for one finals game that they both lost in hilarious fashion and never deserved to have started with a 10-14 record, just to end up back where they started.
Like Kevin Walters, Holbrook is going to need to be exceedingly lucky to avoid the chop next year and I’d like to think it’s only fear of the unknown that’s held them back from doing it this year.
There’s always next year
Ya’ll stink. From top to bottom, from head to toe, from east to west and south to north, this is a bad ball club. Most clubs go through a bad decade; the Titans are having a bad existence. But because the Gold Coast isn’t Brisbane or Sydney, and because the fanbase is tiny and because no one seems to have noticed this, no one seems to care and no one is going to fix it.
The women’s side has a lot more upside than the men’s. Five games isn’t a big enough sample size to decide whether the roster or the coach or both need an overhaul, or if a basic service will be sufficient. I think there’s enough pieces there that they should at least be competitive next year if they can settle the team into a proper starting line up.
I don’t know what the front office expected would happen with the men’s side. Bringing in Foran and Verrills makes sense on paper but I would not be surprised to see the team crash and burn again next year as Holbrook’s tenure becomes increasingly untenable. The key is not confusing mean regression and a bounce back from a Pythagorean underperformance with genuine improvement. Whether they can separate the two is the benchmark the upper management should be judged against in 2023.