The Gold Coast Titans entered the 2021 season with a spine consisting of AJ Brimson, Ashley Taylor, Jamal Fogarty and Mitch Rein.

It was serviceable yet not spectacular, with their forward stars David Fifita, Moeaki Fotuaika and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, and strike weapons Patrick Herbert, Philip Sami and Tyrone Peachey having greater star power.

While not on the elite level of Penrith, Melbourne or South Sydney, the Titans still had a Queensland Origin fullback in Brimson, an experienced hooker who would play his 200th game in 2021 in Rein, club co-captain and level head Fogarty as well as former Rookie of the Year Taylor.

NRL Rd 20 - Titans v Knights
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Jarrod Wallace and AJ Brimson of the Titans celebrate Brimson scoring a tr during the round 20 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Newcastle Knights at Cbus Super Stadium on September 25, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The departures

Since the close of the season, they have decided to release Jamal Fogarty, Mitch Rein and Ash Taylor as well as Tyrone Peachey (the other experienced playmaker who played in the halves for Gold Coast in 2021).

They have since stated that Jayden Campbell, a seven-game rookie, will play fullback, moving Brimson into five-eighth, where he hasn't played since 2019, and has only 15 games of NRL experience. They agreed to release Fogarty to prioritise Toby Sexton, a 20-year-old four-game rookie.

After Rein and Peachey's release, the Titans only have Erin Clark on their books, a running hooker who has started just 11 times at hooker in his career.

Try Assists

Prioritising youth is incredibly important, as we've seen most notably at Penrith, however, the best teams have blooded youngsters into otherwise settled spines, with Cleary developing alongside Matt Moylan, James Maloney and Peter Wallace, and Latrell Mitchell's position swap being supported by Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook.

Clubs in the bottom half of the table have repeatedly attempted to throw talented youngsters into a struggling team with little experience or mentorship. In recent years, young stars like Anthony Milford, Brodie Croft, Ash Taylor, Tom Dearden and Kyle Flanagan (especially at the Bulldogs) haven't been able to develop properly, given total control of a side at too young an age.

Daine Laurie, Jarome Luai, Blake Taaffe and Jahrome Hughes are all examples of young playmakers who have succeeded at NRL level after spending time developing under older heads (James Maloney for the first two, Benji Marshall and Adam Reynolds for Taaffe, and Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater for Hughes).

The arrivals (or lack thereof)

Fogarty's potential release was initially discussed as part of a swap deal with Josh Hodgson, however, Hodgson remains a Raider with the swap reportedly off the table, yet Fogarty has been released. Crazy.

While the signing of Isaac Liu to play in the front row is positive, the only spine players they have signed are three-game rookie Paul Turner (Warriors) and six-game bench hooker Aaron Booth (Storm).

This mass Titans exodus points to the recruitment of a big fish in the spine for 2021, with Taylor earning nearly $1 million per year on his previous contract and Peachey earning more than $500,000 per year in 2021.

However, the Titans have left their run far too late for 2021, with the only spine players left off-contract being:

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 15: Benji Marshall of the Rabbitohs celebrates with fans during the round 10 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium, on May 15, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Of these, only Sam Williams would be a cheap, smart signing for the Titans, who will dearly miss Fogarty's composure, the x-factor of Peachey and the dependability of Rein in 2022 if they are unable to sign a player for 2023 and secure an early release.

Overall, while Titans fans would have been overjoyed to return to finals this year, they are unlikely to return as long as they have an inexperienced spine, with the Brisbane Broncos, Cronulla Sharks and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tipped to return to top-eight contention after strong recruitment.

After missing out on a half or hooker this year, come November 1, they will likely be highly active in the transfer market, with key targets for 2023 being Brandon Smith and Apisai Koroisau.

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