With a squad filled to the brim with young and exciting talent, 2022 shapes as a pivotal year in the development of this team as they continue the chase that elusive first premiership.
Despite finally making the finals for the first time since 2010, the Titans had a really up and down season. After sitting at five wins, six losses and eighth on the ladder after 11 rounds, the Titans lost four in a row to slump to 13th position with finals looking unlikely.
However, a strong finish culminating in a huge win against the Warriors in the last round saw the Titans make their long awaited return to the finals.
While they entered the finals with many pundits believing they were there to make up the numbers, yet their performance suggested otherwise, losing by one point with a last minute missed try costing them the match.
The Titans revitalised forward pack was a feature of their run into the finals with the likes of new recruits David Fifita (Broncos) and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Storm) laying a steady platform for the Titans to build upon late.
Isaac Liu (Roosters), Paul Turner (Warriors), Aaron Booth (Storm), Will Smith (Eels).
Jai Whitbread (Centurions), Sam Stone (Centurions), Tyrone Peachey (Wests Tigers), Jamal Fogarty (Raiders), Ash Taylor (Warriors), Mitch Rein (released), Jonus Pearson (released), Anthony Don (retired).
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Eyes have been glued to Titans training this offseason with lots of experience, especially through the spine leaving the club, including former skipper Jamal Fogarty.
The departure of Fogarty signals a new age on the Gold Coast heralded by their new young spine.
After a terrific finish to the year Jayden Campbell will assume the fullback role, which means AJ Brimson will make a return to the number six jersey for the first time since his junior days. Prodigious halfback Toby Sexton will take over controlling the middle of the field, while 24-year-old Erin Clark takes the reins at dummy-half.
The trio of Campbell, Brimson and Sexton is what is exciting track watchers the most this preseason.
“Between us two (Brimson and Sexton) and JC (Campbell) out the back we’ve all combined really nicely and we’re all looking forward to playing with each other,” Sexton said recently at a press conference.
What to expect?
With youth in key attacking positions comes exciting and fast paced football, so expect the Titans attack to be a feature of their game this year.
Fifita led the club in tries scored last season crossing the line for 17 tries, but looked like their only threat at times. While Fifita will still be a threat that teams will need to watch, expect Sexton, Brimson and Campbell to stretch the field bringing in the Titans wingers more than last season.
However, despite what looks like an improved attack on paper, it will all be for nothing if the Titans can’t improve their defence.
The Titans defence was far from the worst in 2021, ranked 10th in the league, they only conceded 27 more points than the seventh ranked Sharks. However there is still plenty of room for improvement if they are to compete with the top teams in the league.
In 2021, the top six teams all conceded less than 500 points, compared to the Titans 583. However, those teams have strong spines that control the game especially as they enter inside the oppositions 20 metre line.
If the Titans young spine can actually stand up and take the pressure off some of their forwards to create chances through brute strength, that may present the small improvement required to take it up to the top teams in the competition.
It’s a big year for?
Despite his State of Origin calibre, the pressure will be on the Brimson to perform this season as he transitions back to a position that he played a lot in his juniors.
The 23-year-old has cut his teeth at first grade level as a fullback, excelling with his explosive speed and line-breaking ability.
However, despite his success at fullback for the Titans, the unearthing of his successor as he sat on the sideline with injury left Brimson in limbo come the seasons end.
While he voiced his enthusiasm for stepping back into the halves, pundits have questioned all preseason whether or not he is up to the task.
While the new makeup of the team is indeed exciting, if Brimson fails to step up into the five-eighth role it will prove to be a very big headache for Holbrook and the makeup of his team moving forward.
It isn’t just premiership glory for the Titans that Brimson will be chasing with the positional move. In his short State of Origin career to date he has always found himself to be second behind Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga, but if he can make it in the halves he may also lock down the bench utility role for the Maroons come Origin time.
Biggest unanswered question
Will 2022 be two steps back?
With the monkey finally off the back, the natural next step in the Titans progression would be to cement their place amongst the best teams in the competition.
However, with such a dramatic change in the lineup will this be a classic case of one step forward two steps back for the Titans this season?
While the talent of Holbrook’s squad is undoubted, they aren’t the only team in the competition looking to take the next step.
Competition for spots in the finals is expected to be as hotly contested as ever, but with the top six teams still set to be firmly entrenched in the finals there may only be two positions to be contested by up to six teams.
While the new look spine will serve the team well for the future, it may impact their chances at making back to back finals appearances for the second time in the clubs history.
Coach pressure index
While making one elimination final doesn’t guarantee any coaches long-term future, it definitely eases the pressure on Holbrook as he enters his third season in the job.
Contracted until the end of 2024, pending a catastrophic season in 2022, Holbrook should see out his contract taking the pressure off the young coaches job.
While it doesn’t seem likely he will lose his job the pressure for his team to perform will only continue to mount. While finals won’t necessarily result in the termination of his contract, if the Titans do actually take two steps back expect the pressure to be heaped on Holbrook in 2023.
Predicted round one lineup
The Titans head into their round one clash with the Eels with an almost full strength squad. Holbrook’s only headache will be the makeup of his starting forward pack.
Isaac Liu arrives from the Roosters, and with his experience should start on the field, especially as the Titans look to get off to a good start.
This leaves experience campaigner Jarrod Wallace starting on the bench, but expect him to come on and be a real presence as the oppositions forward pack tires.
After finishing the season on the bench Fifita should again get first crack at starting on the field, but either Beau Fermor or Jamain Jollife will be waiting in the wings to start should Fifita fail to have an impact in the starting team.
7th – 12th
Ultimately the Titans remain one of the biggest unknowns heading into this season. Such upheaval in the spine never leads to instant success.
However, with seven games in the first 13 rounds against bottom eight sides from 2021 the Titans should be able to hit the halfway mark of the season in a position to have a crack at finals.
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