The Gold Coast Titans had plenty of big expectations in 2021, and after sneaking into the finals, they only grow for 2022.

Justin Holbrook's side - when they are at their best - are one of the most exciting teams in the competition.

Of that, there can be no doubt. A youthful forward with plenty of upside led by David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, to go with the hard-working Moeaki Fotuaika, joined by an exciting spine featuring AJ Brimson, Toby Sexton and boom fullback Jayden Campbell.

The Titans' defence and consistency might be susceptible, but if they can improve that, then there is no reason they shouldn't be pushing further up the table in 2022.

Only, there is still one enormous gap in the side, and one which they could find very difficult to overcome.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Titans coach Justin Holbrook looks on during a media interview before the start of the round three NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Gold Coast Titans at QCB Stadium on March 28, 2021, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The good news is that they could kill two birds with one stone so to speak by signing the correct player - their gap in the team, as well as fixing some of their defensive and consistency issues.

So, if there were no contracts, no salary cap and they could sign whichever player they wanted for 2022, who would it be?

Who would your club steal?
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Current squad for 2022

Aaron Booth, Tanah Boyd, AJ 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, Treymain Spry, Corey Thompson, Paul Turner, Joseph Vuna, Jarrod Wallace.

Gaps in the Titans' best 17

If you have of looked at this during last season, the sore point for the Titans probably would have been in the halves, with Ashley Taylor refusing to fire and Jamal Fogarty holding down a position but not setting the world on fire.

But then Toby Sexton had a chance to debut at the back-end of the year, and Jayden Campbell will push Alexander Brimson into the halves to partner with him.

NRL Rd 23 - Titans v Storm
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 19: Jayden Campbell of the Titans looks on during the round 23 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Melbourne Storm at Cbus Super Stadium, on August 19, 2021, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

That means three-quarters of the spine are looking at worst, very solid, but at best, it could be a strike of lightning on the Gold Coast.

At the very least, they deserve a chance this season to work, and there are certainly more pressing issues at the Titans.

Like number nine.

The hooking position - one of the most important on the field - is a major problem for the Gold Coast. Aaron Booth joins the club from the Storm, but he was third-choice in Melbourne, while Erin Clark remains in the fold.

Mitch Rein has left the club which leaves them short on experience, and it could be an issue which brings their whole 2022 campaign unstuck.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 12: Mitch Rein of the Titans looks on during the round ten NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium on May 12, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

So it's very clear they need an experienced and defensively excellent hooker, but also someone who won't overplay their hand given the enormous attacking talent all around them.

The Titans otherwise look reasonably well-rounded, although you could argue Kevin Proctor has never hit his stride on the Gold Coast and an experienced second-rower to partner David Fifita could be an acceptable replacement.

Otherwise, the likes of Phillip Sami and Patrick Herbert lead a solid backline, while Moeaki Fotuaika, Jarrod Wallace and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui is an unbelievably strong middle third, meaning that isn't even close to the area the club would look.

The candidates to steal

Option 1: Brandon Smith (Melbourne Storm)
Brandon Smith may well end up at the Titans from 2023, so full disclaimer, they are chasing him because they know how good he is anyway.

But a 2022 arrival could be the difference between making the top four or sitting around the edge of the eight again.

Smith is an unbelievably good player. Tenacious in defence and always popping up in attack at either hooker or lock forward, he also provides versatility for Booth or Clark to come off the bench with more speed and aggression through the middle portion of the game.

The New Zealand international was named hooker of the year to the Dally M team of 2021 for a reason - or multiple reasons - truth be told.

His vision and ability to take the line on out of dummy half would also only serve to make the likes of Brimson, Sexton and Campbell more dangerous.

BRANDON SMITH
Hooker
Storm
2021 SEASON AVG
26
Tackles Made
0.5
Tries
0.5
LB Assists

Option 2: Cameron McInnes (Cronulla Sharks)
The biggest risk with McInnes is that he is coming back from an ACL injury - not that it's worrying Cronyulla or their fans... Or making Dragons' fans particularly happy that he is gone.

One of the best defenders in the competition, McInnes brings a no-nonsense, hard-nosed attitude which every club would love to have.

The Titans need someone like McInnes more than most though.

Their defence was the biggest problem last year, and not even that, but their tendency to simply switch off for periods during games. If there is one thing McInnes is, then it's consistent.

He is an 80-minute workhorse who can also play lock, and takes to every task at a million miles per hour and giving 100 per cent energy and enthusiasm.

His attack may not be at the level of some other hookers in the competition, but he is a player the Titans need.

Option 3: Reed Mahoney (Parramatta Eels)
Mahoney, like McInnes, is incredibly strong defensively.

Unlike McInnes, he doesn't have the experience of so many years in the NRL. But what he lacks in experience, he makes up for in talent.

Mahoney is an excellent facilitator of the ball and seems to always pick the right option. You could argue he was the most important player missing during the finals series.

The star hooker was set for a State of Origin debut before the injury bug strike for the first time this season, and while that in itself may be a concern to the Titans, he would fit in with Brimson, Sexton and Campbell wonderfully.

REED MAHONEY
Hooker
Eels
2021 SEASON AVG
44.9
Tackles Made
0.2
Tries
0.8
LB Assists

Option 4: Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons)
The final option for the Titans is to take a second-rower on to take over from Proctor.

Basing their game on attacking out wide, they need a player with an excellent ability to hit holes, run the right lines, bust tackles and deliver offloads.

But also a veteran for David Fifita to learn from.

Sims fits right in on both of those fronts, and while you could argue there are better options in the competition as a raw second-rower, few come with as much experience and know how as the off-contract Dragon.

He is an Origin player who continually stands up on that stage, and while he is at times inconsistent at club level, he is defensively excellent which is also another string to the bow of what the Titans need so desperately.

TARIQ SIMS
Second-row
Dragons
2021 SEASON AVG
33
Tackles Made
0.2
Tries
1.5
Tackle Breaks

The verdict

What the Titans desperately need is a player who won't overplay his hand, and one who will solidify the middle third defensively.

They don't need a flashy attacking hooker like Apisai Koroisau or Damien Cook, because they have so many attacking weapons across the park.

What they need is a facilitator, someone who can read the play and set things up for the right options at all times, and someone who will get quality ball to the likes of Brimson, Sexton and Campbell, as well as to their big forwards, led by Fifita.

I am very tempted to take McInnes here. He is a facilitator with the best of them, and an even better defender. No one holds a candle to him in the game on that front.

But coming back from an ACL injury, it's an enormous risk, despite the obvious experience he would bring the young club.

Smith has been in the Melbourne system, has proven himself as a defender and if he was to understand his role - to not overplay his hand - then he could turn into the best signing the Titans have made.

He may end up on the Gold Coast in 2023 anyway, but how the club would love to have him a season early.

Brandon Smith (Melbourne Storm)

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 23: Brandon Smith of the Storm warms up before the start of the round 19 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Melbourne Storm at QCB Stadium, on July 23, 2021, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Next in this series we will check out the Manly Sea Eagles.