No team created a bigger impression at the back end of last season than Gold Coast.
Reinforced with some superstar impact in the forwards and it’s no wonder they are one of the most talked about clubs heading into the new season.
Chris Honnery takes a look at the key questions facing the Titans in 2021.
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2020 ladder position: 9th
Ins: David Fifita (Broncos), Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Storm), Herman Ese’ese (Knights), Patrick Herbert (Warriors), Sam McIntyre (Tigers)
Outs: Jai Arrow (Souths), Ryan James (Raiders), Keegan Hipgrave (Eels), Shannon Boyd (retired), Dale Copley (Broncos), Nathan Peats (unsigned), Dale Copley (unsigned), Tyrone Roberts (unsigned)
Players in the 2020 Rich 100:7 — 4. Ash Taylor ($1.25 million), 40. Ryan James* ($725,000), 65. Shannon Boyd* ($650,000), 66. Jarrod Wallace ($650,000), 80. Nathan Peats* ($550,000), 94. Tyrone Peachey ($500,000), 95. Kevin Proctor ($500,000)
* Have left the club this off-season
Coach status: Justin Holbrook was impressive in his debut season with the Titans, finishing the year just two points outside the top eight in a tumultuous year.
Now with a host of superstars under his mentorship, Holbrook has the power to steer the Titans into a top-four club. His contract was extended for another four seasons at the end of the 2020 season, in a sign the club is backing him in for the long run.
What is their game plan, and how do they need to tweak: The Titans started to throw the ball around a lot more in 2020, and with dynamo fullback AJ Brimson at the back, they were able to produce some flash football.
However, in 2021 their strength will lie in the forwards with three big name signings in David Fifita, Tino Faasuamaleaui and Herman Ese’ese. The monster engine room will help gain valuable metres down the field and should be capped off with Ash Taylor’s incredible kicking and passing game to, hopefully, result in points.
Such is their excitement factor next year, they’ve begun the pre-season at $1.95 odds to make the finals.
How did they go in free agency: In addition to the three star forwards, the Titans have recruited shrewdly. Patrick Herbert shapes as a first-choice centre for 2021 — the 23-year-old has already played 21 first grade games with the Warriors so he provides another strong option in the outside backs. The Titans have also picked up Sam McIntyre from the Tigers. The 22-year-old middle or edge forward made his NRL debut in 2020, playing 12 games and gives Holbrook another option in his stacked engine room department.
Will development contract upgraded kids make an impact: Jaimin Jolliffe became a regular for the Titans in his debut season with the club. The 108kg prop played 16 of the 20 games, starting off the bench before promoted to the starting squad. His work rate has impressed Gold Coast’s coaching staff and should remain in the frame for selection.
He is recovering from a syndesmosis injury suffered in Round 17, but the Titans’ medical staff are confident he will be ready for next season. However, with a host of big names, he has some big competition to lock down a starting spot.
Toby Sexton is another Gold Coast development player waiting in the fringes. The Australian schoolboys star and Palm Beach Currumbin product provides great cover if either playmaker Ash Taylor or Jamal Fogarty is injured. The 19-year-old has plenty of potential to break into the NRL but may need to wait some time before he gets the chance.
What players can they reinvent: Tyrone Peachey. With a big, barnstorming forward pack in 2021, Peachey needs to return to his fleet-footed style of footy off the bench to become a game-breaker.
Peachey is yet to fire in his past two seasons with the Titans, but he showed glimpses of his potential under Justin Holbrook in 2020 in a sign of things to come. His ability to come off the interchange and add spark against a tiring defensive line can be a huge benefit for the Gold Coast squad.
Who takes the next step: AJ Brimson and David Fifita. Brimson showed what he’s capable of in State of Origin I last month and it has Gold Coast fans salivating. The livewire in the No.1 jersey proved one of the Titans’ best in 2020 and that was playing just nine games after suffering a back injury in the pre-season.
He finished the season with seven tries, two try assists and close to 1500 running metres. At just 22, Brimson will be instrumental in the Titans’ success in 2021.
Meanwhile, Fifita’s seachange from Red Hill is hoped to spark him to another level, which seems scary for a player who is already a proven game-breaker. With several schoolmates alongside him at the Titans, Fifita should prove to be pivotal in the forward pack.
The best 17 for 2021:
1 AJ Brimson
2 Phillip Sami
3 Patrick Herbert
4 Brian Kelly
5 Anthony Don
6 Ash Taylor
7 Jamal Fogarty
8 Moeaki Fotuaika
9 Mitch Rein
10 Sam Lisone
11 David Fifita
12 Kevin Proctor
13 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
14 Tyrone Peachey
15 Jarrod Wallace
16 Herman Ese’ese
17 Sam McIntyre
2021 squad: Tanah Boyd, AJ Brimson, Erin Clark, Anthony Don, Herman Ese’ese, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Darius Farmer, David Fifita, Jamal Fogarty, Moeaki Fotuaika, Beau Fermor, Patrick Herbert, Jaimin Joliffe, Brian Kelly, Greg Leleisiuao, Sam Lisone, Sam McIntyre, Tyrone Peachey, Jonus Pearson, Kevin Proctor, Mitch Rein, Phillip Sami, Corey Thompson, Treymain Spry, Ash Taylor, Jarrod Wallace, Jai Whitbread
Fox Sports Lab’s Aaron Wallace says: Certainly seem to be on the up — the Titans finished the season with a bang — recording a club record-equalling five straight wins.
Their nine victories in 2020 gave them a 45 per cent winning record, their best regular season record since 2016 (11 wins/24 losses — 45.8 per cent).
Starting games fast will be a focus in the off-season — the Titans had the equal-worst differential of any team in the opening 20 minutes of matches, scoring just 74 points while conceding 130 (-56).
Finish the last five years: 8th, 15th, 14th, Last, 9th
Odds are: $19 TAB premiership odds, $5 top-four finish, $1.95 top-8 finish, $23 most losses