The Gold Coast Titans are set to be one of the more entertaining prospects to watch during the 2022 NRL season following a 2021 campaign where they wound up in the top eight.
The Titans are set to make some critical changes to their 17 for the 2022 season, with a star player swapping positions.
But their forward pack continues to develop, youngsters fill spine positions and undoubtedly, Justin Holbrook will continue to improve as a coach at the top level.
They finished eighth in 2021, but this season feels like it has the potential for so much more.
Ins: Aaron Booth (Melbourne Storm, 2022), Tony Francis (2023), Shallin Fuller (2022), Isaac Liu (Sydney Roosters, 2024), Will Smith (Parramatta Eels, 2023), Paul Turner (New Zealand Warriors, 2023), Thomas Weaver (2024)
Outs: Anthony Don (retired), Jamal Fogarty (Canberra Raiders), Tyrone Peachey (Wests Tigers), Jonus Pearson (released), Mitch Rein (Parramatta Eels), Sam Stone (Leigh Centurions), Ashley Taylor (New Zealand Warriors), Jai Whitbread (Leigh Centurions)
Re-signed: Tanah Boyd (2024), AJ Brimson (2026), Jayden Campbell (2024), Erin Clark (2023), Beau Fermor (2024), Moeaki Fotuaika (2024), Patrick Herbert (2023), Jaimin Jolliffe (2024), Brian Kelly (2023), Sam Lisone (2024), Greg Marzhew (2023), Kevin Proctor (2022), Toby Sexton (2024), Corey Thompson (2023)
Aaron Booth, Tanah Boyd, Alexander Brimson, Jayden Campbell, Erin Clark, Herman Ese'ese, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Beau Fermor, David Fifita, Sosefo Fifita, Moeaki Fotuaika, Shallin Fuller, Patrick Herbert, Jaimin Jolliffe, Brian Kelly, Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Sam Lisone, Isaac Liu, Esan Marsters, Greg Marzhew, Sam McIntyre, Kevin Proctor, Phillip Sami, Toby Sexton, Will Smith, Corey Thompson, Paul Turner, Joseph Vuna, Jarrod Wallace.
Who plays where?
Ordinarily, AJ Brimson would be named here without a discussion and we would all move along without so much as a second glance at the number one jersey.
But that simply won’t be the case in 2022.
Brimson has spent the pre-season training in the halves which is exciting enough in itself, but Jayden Campbell’s emergence at fullback could be equally as enthralling.
The only real question is whether Brimson can avoid injury in the front line given his problems with that over the last two years, but the number one jersey is Campbell’s to cement for years to come.
He was impressive at the back end of 2021 and now gets a full season to prove how good he can really be.
Three doesn’t go into two, but the Titans need to find a way to make it happen.
Depth is never a bad thing to have, but with the improving Phillip Sami, consistent performer Corey Thompson and ball of strength in Greg Marzhew, Holbrook has a difficult decision about who to leave out.
Marzhew is the outsider with only eight NRL appearances to his name, but he has six tries in those games, 27 tackle busts and an average of 185 metres per game.
They are numbers that paint a compelling case, but the experience of Sami (73 games) and Thompson (109 games) as well as their improvement defensively mean Marzhew is still likely to be first reserve.
There are really only two top-tier options to play in the centres for the Gold Coast.
Herbert’s current status in the game has unfortunately been dragged down by a split-second decision to not throw a pass which would have sent the Titans through to Week 2 of the finals in 2021. He had a strong season though and will retain his starting spot for the foreseeable future.
Brian Kelly has also been excellent in both attack and defence, playing 22 games and scoring 12 tries last season. He also tackled at north of 80 per cent, which is an impressive return for a centre.
The future has well and truly arrived for the Titans. AJ Brimson has gone back to a position he played in junior rugby league in the halves, while youngster Toby Sexton is set to partner him in the key positions.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need to perform though. The depth in the halves for the Titans is far greater than one might think, although overall skews towards being quite young.
Will Smith is the experienced player who could slot in if needed, although that can be said for just about every position in the backline and hooker, while Paul Turner - who was signed by the New Zealand Warriors - is rated as one of the best youngsters in the game.
The middle third options for the Titans look outstanding. Isaac Liu’s addition to the club from the Roosters adds depth and strength, while Jarrod Wallace’s continued improvement back to something near his best in 2021 creates something of a selection headache given Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika are representative-calibre starting players, let alone club-calibre.
It means Foutaika takes one prop spot, while Fa’asuamalleaui will wear the number 13 jumper for the season.
It’s hard to imagine the Titans have signed Liu to ride the bench, so he will take the other starting spot, leaving Jarrod Wallace out of the 13.
Brimson has spoken out about Boyd playing hooker, so there is every chance he is in with a shout, but it’s hard to see him starting ahead of Clark who played plenty of minutes both starting and in a bench role there last year.
When you have two representative second-row options at the club, there isn’t a lot of discussion about who should be starting in the best 17.
We will name Fifita to start, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t every week.
That all being said, Tanah Boyd is the undoubted best option to play the utility role for the Titans given his youth and speed, but watch for Will Smith to make a considerable fight for the spot given he has just signed a two-year deal with the club.
That is fought out between Jaimin Jolliffe, Herman Ese’ese, Sam Lisone and Sam McIntyre, who has the ability to play front row and second-row, and just recently signed a contract extension with the club.
It’s a toss-up, but it feels like size and strength is a must. Jolliffe played every game for the Titans last year and brings power through the middle, so he claims the spot, but healthy competition and depth is a positive sign for the Titans.
The best 17
1. Jayden Campbell
2. Phillip Sami
3. Patrick Herbert
4. Brian Kelly
5. Corey Thompson
6. AJ Brimson
7. Toby Sexton
8. Moeaki Fotuaika
9. Erin Clark
10. Isaac Liu
11. Kevin Proctor
12. David Fifita
13. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Other best 17s
Manly Sea Eagles
New Zealand Warriors
North Queensland Cowboys
South Sydney Rabbitohs