The Gold Coast Titans managed to find their way into finals football during the 2021 season, but still have plenty of room for improvement in 2022.
Excitement surrounds the Titans’ camp heading into the new season with the likes of Toby Sexton and Jayden Campbell set to spend their first full season as part of the first-choice 17.
That alone, given the form they both showed in Justin Holbrook’s side at the end of 2021, is enough to make Titans fans excited and make rival fans nervous, yet anticipate good quality games against the Gold Coast.
The loss of Jamal Fogarty could yet be an issue, but that is offset by the move of AJ Brimson into the halves, in a position where he played plenty of junior football.
It feels like the Titans should be marking 2022 as a season where the only way is up, particularly if they can see continued improvement out of David Fifita, and work rate out of middle forwards Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika, who is undoubtedly among the most underrated props in the competition.
But despite the monstrous upside which seems to be with Holbrook’s side, there are still areas of concern, and things to address in the opening weeks and then right throughout the season.
Get them right, and the Titans could be anything, but get them wrong, and suddenly, they will be scrapping to make the top eight again - a position they certainly shouldn’t be in.
But with other teams from last year’s bottom eight likely to improve substantially, the Titans must do the same.
Here are the burning questions which could shape their season.
Can AJ Brimson become a half at NRL level?
AJ Brimson is one of the game’s most talented fullbacks.
His name might not get mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of Tom Trbojevic, James Tedesco, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Nicho Hynes, but he is right up there.
It’s the little things which don’t tend to pop up on the stats sheet, but his game IQ is ridiculously good. He reads plays, is always there in support and for a man of his size, defends excellently more often than he doesn’t behind a team who the same can’t always be said about.
The emergence of Jayden Campbell has pushed him into the halves for 2022 though, which may not be the worst thing.
More time on the ball for Brimson could see him go to another level with his running and passing games being two of his strongest attributes.
However, there are question marks over his ability to be a kicker, and more broadly, over who will do the bulk of the orgasnising for the Titans. It’s likely Toby Sexton will be forced to take that role, however, whether it suits him at this level remains to be seen.
Sexton’s performances in taking pressure off Brimson could well dictate how successful this move is, and while it has the potential to work, it’s not set in stone.
What are the Titans doing at dummy half?
The Titans chased Brandon Smith hard for 2023, and looking at their current squad, there is little wonder why.
They have signed Aaron Booth from the Melbourne Storm, who was the third and possibly even fourth-choice hooker behind Smith himself, Harry Grant and Tyson Smoothy.
He could add some spark around the ruck, while Erin Clark is also at the club. Letting Mitch Rein depart when he had no other serious suitor at the time (he has now been picked up by the Parramatta Eels) seems an odd call given he was more than serviceable during 2021, defends strongly and would likely only get better as the team did the same around him.
Clark hasn’t set the world on fire, and Booth is something of an unknown quantity, while AJ Brimson last week spoke on the likelihood of Tanah Boyd - who is a half but has played as a bench utility - taking up the role.
None of the options seem world-beating though, and they need to come up with something in a hurry if 2022 is going to be a success given how important the position is.
Can David Fifita become consistent and find a role?
This is a monstrous “what if” hanging over the Gold Coast Titans.
At his best, David Fifita is about as close to unstoppable as any player in the competition.
At the other end of the spectrum, David Fifita drops the ball, misses tackles and seems to not know how to use his strength and size.
Simply put though, the Titans need him at his best. Justin Holbrook toyed with the idea of him playing off the bench at the back end of 2021, but let’s be real, David Fifita must start for the Gold Coast.
He has the ability to put a team on the back foot in a matter of minutes, and it’s no good him trying to do that when his side is already 12-0 down.
Consistency in performance and role is critical for Fifita and the Titans.
Will they be able to fix their defence?
The Titans had the worst defence of all sides who made the top eight in 2021 and then some.
The men from the party strip conceded 583 points (23.32 per game) throughout the course of the regular season, the worst of those in the top eight just below the Newcastle Knights, but almost 100 points more than the next team, being the Manly Sea Eagles.
They also finished with a worse defensive record than the Cronulla Sharks and Canberra Raiders who finished outside of the top eight.
While they will be rely on their attack to get themselves out of sticky situations, it won’t be the be all and end all. Teams will get better at these new rules, and those who adapt best could climb the ladder.
If the Titans can’t work out their defensive structures, they are more likely to take the snake down the ladder rather than climbing in the right direction.
What role will Isaac Liu play?
Isaac Liu has not been signed to play a bench role, let’s get that much clear.
While he didn’t consistently start at the Roosters being stuck behind Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Victor Radley in the middle third, as well as Sitili Tupouniua and Angus Crichton on the edge, his versatility made him a valuable commodity.
He was the first off the bench at the first sign of injury, of which there was plenty at the Roosters in 2021.
But he has not left the winning environment at Bondi for a bench role.
What Holbrook needs to work out is whether he is a second-rower to replace Kevin Proctor, a lock which will shift Tino Fa’asuamaleaui to the front row, or a prop which ensures Jarrod Wallace will come from the bench.
Whichever way you look at it, he increases the Titans depth, but finding him a starting role, and a consistent one, will be critical.
Good point on Liu. I think he’s too good to come off the bench at the Titans but he is a middle. Tino and Mo up front with Liu at lock. Wallace I think is actually getting better and has a nice offload. I think he value as first rotation and young Campbell floating around him. Furmor, Lisone and (maybe) Boyd as #14. I heard Boyd had been training at hooker but I guess with 1/2 the team out with Covid it’s a free for all atm.
The time Fifita started coming off the bench was the time they started needling his ribs. He just needs to learn they need his size and power as much in his own 20m as their attacking 20m.
AJ has been a half all his life and he played there when he first started and remember being very impressed with his front line defence. I don’t know much about Booth but to think if he’s been in the Storm system he must be ok, they have history of identifying pretty good rakes. My greatest concern with their spine is their overall age. Sexton will grow into the role and Campbell is a gun. By 2024/25 this team will be a powerhouse.
Yeah I was impressed by Wallace at the back end of last year Coastar… It’s a pretty good middle rotation.
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