After barely missing the top eight in 2020, the Gold Coast Titans have returned to the NRL finals for the first time since 2016.
It’s been a lean decade on-field for the NRL’s newest side since they played in back-to-back finals series in 2009 and 2010, winning their first-ever final in the latter. They triumphed over the New Zealand Warriors 28-16, but haven’t won another final since.
The Titans snuck across the line on points difference over the Cronulla Sharks to finish eighth after they went down 16-28 to ladder leaders Melbourne Storm.
They saved their best form for last, keeping a team scoreless for the first time in 2021 in the win over the Warriors, and with their biggest winning margin of the year.
At just 21, it’ll be young Titans second-rower David Fifita’s third final in his short career.
He hasn’t won one yet though, playing in two dismal losses with the Brisbane Broncos in 2018 and 2019. The rising star forward embraces the big stage though, scoring the first try of the 18-48 loss to the St. George Illawarra Dragons.
Speaking to media on Tuesday, Fifita is feeding off the energy that’s currently bouncing around the club.
“Everyone’s all smiles, it’s been a while since Titans have played finals,” he said.
“For myself, it’s my first year down here to be part of it, and I’m looking forward [to] it. This is where we wanted to be and we’re here.”
Finishing in eighth, the Titans will face one of the hardest finals challenges of any team, having to win three games against higher-ranked opponents if they want to get anywhere near the grand final.
No team was won the premiership from outside the top four in the NRL era, but it’s not stopping the Titans from looking towards the end of September.
“We’re in the top eight, just got that eighth spot. From here on in we’ve just to win every game [against] the team that’s in front of us,” Fifita said.
“It’s good for the Gold Coast being in the top eight playing finals, playing finals footy. Hopefully we can do the job now and get it done, get everyone behind us.”
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Fifita admitted that he’s been carrying an injury to his ribs for the better part of a month. He suffered damage to his rib cartilage in the Round 21 win over the North Queensland Cowboys.
It didn’t stop him scoring two tries against the Warriors on Sunday however, scoring his 16th try for the year and equalling David Mead and James Roberts’ record for the most tries for the Titans in a season.
The forward says he’s battled through the worst of the pain.
“It’s getting better, just needled it up and then it was sweet,” Fifita said.
“You know rib cartilage, it’s pretty painful. [It’s not hard] to breathe, just moving around and that. It’s fine now.
“The staff do a good job of monitoring me during the week and then needling it up on game day.”
Benched stars leaving fans wanting
Titans head coach Justin Holbrook has come under fire for keeping his big money recruit starting off the bench in recent weeks.
The role seems to be working well for Fifita however, scoring four tries over the past month.
He admits that it’s not where he would prefer to be spending his playing minutes. Performing the team role, however, particularly coming into a do-or-die finals match-up, takes priority.
“It is what it is, I want to start, but it’s best for the team and we’re getting the wins,” Fifita said.
“Beauy Fermor and Kevy [Kevin Proctor] and the edges there are doing a good job.
“It’s something new for myself. Justin [Holbrook] keeps it real simple for me, and I just go out there and play footy.”
The challenge awaiting the Titans on Saturday evening comes in the form of the fifth-placed Sydney Roosters.
Their foes come into the finals winning three of their last four matches. Aside from an aberration against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Roosters have been one of the in-form teams of the competition.
Sydney will be buoyed by the returns of Victor Radley from suspension and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves from injury. Fifita is taking in confidence after a narrow early-season loss to the Roosters at home.
“If you watched our game last time we played them we just lost by a point,” he said.
“Our forwards gave them a good jog. It’s going to be a tough, tough game. Our boys in the middle do a good job, and everyone’s full of smiles.
“They’ve been the benchmark for a couple of years. They’re a quality side, and they’ve got good players.
“We’ve just got to identify them throughout the week, which we’ve done today. It’s going to be a good game on Saturday.”
The Roosters and the Titans go head to head in an elimination final at Queensland Country Bank Stadium at 5:40 pm on Saturday, September 11.
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