Preview: Gold Coast Titans vs Sydney Roosters

Ahh, the Gold Coast: beautiful one day, littered with the remains of a recently-folded sports club the next.

For those who’ve never been to the Gold Coast, essentially it’s a big Kings Cross (not the current version, the old one that once had businesses in it) with a nearby beach. But mostly it’s a sporting mirage which tempts and re-tempts every single sports league in Australia to expand there with statements such as “it’s Australia’s sixth biggest city!” and “it’s the fastest-growing region!” before the mirage quickly fades and the reality that the area is a sporting graveyard unlike any other in Australia sinks in along, typically, with the club du jour.

Seriously, do yourselves a favour and look up the Gold Coast Cougars/Rollers, Blaze, Bears and United before even researching the Seagulls/Giants/Gladiators/Chargers. And it’s worth looking up the reported struggles of the Suns and Titans before you consider that yet another effort to get a soccer team established there is underway. The definition of madness has never been clearer than when witnessing how willing sports leagues are to tempt fate over and over north of the Tweed.

And why do clubs actually have to travel to the Gold Coast and onto Robina, when Gold Coast’s fans can’t be stuffed either? Whether it’s because they have no fans, or they simply can’t be arsed travelling 20 minutes to watch a struggling club, is a question worth debating — but the question of whether they’re good team or not, isn’t.

They’re not good. And even when it seems like they’re good, they’re actually just around the corner from mediocrity.

They witnessed Daly Cherry-Evans sign with the club before he presumably went for a long walk on the beach Costanza-style to reflect on what the hell he’d just done:

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Note: Image above is obviously digitally-altered — and horribly so. 

They then watched him backflip the hell outta Dodge, his reputation be damned. They then witnessed their current first-string halfback, Kane Elgey, be ruled out for the year. They’re now starting a half who would have been their back-up half in a perfect world, even though he looks like he only just finished a stint at Schoolies, and they have the lesser of the two Friends currently starting as hooker. They signed a coach to a long-term deal after he was let go by the Cowboys, a club which then went on to win the Grand Final two years later with a former Roosters assistant coach replacing him.

It seems dire up there but as the old saying goes: if a club sucks on the Gold Coast and there are no fans around to see it, does anyone really give a shit?

Sydney Roosters

Shaun Kenny-Dowall, the club’s most dangerous back this year, suffered a “turf toe” injury and is unavailable. To show just how much impact the Roosters will miss this weekend, he’s averaging an incredible 7.1 tackle busts and 9.63 metres a run from 12.78 runs per game, with 0.67 line breaks a match. So yep, it’s now clear the Injury Gods have it in for the Chooks this year after a few years of relatively decent health — though Daniel Tupou has been recalled after apparently recovering from his injury.

The bye week offered the Roosters a chance to press reset on a season in which they’ve started just 2-7 and with 15 games remaining they need to start their push now if they have any hopes of making the finals — though it’s a chance that’s been boosted somewhat by the Parramatta Salary Cap scandal.

1 Latrell Mitchell; 2 Daniel Tupou; 3 Mitchell Aubusson;  4 Blake Ferguson; 5 Joe Burgess; 6 Jackson Hastings; 7 Mitchell Pearce; 8 Sam Moa; 9 Jake Friend (c); 10 Dylan Napa; 11 Boyd Cordner; 12 Aidan Guerra; 13 Isaac Liu. Interchange: 14 Kane Evans; 15 Eloni Vunakece; 16 Ryan Matterson; 17 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves; 18 Connor Watson.

The Titans were particularly vulnerable around the middle of the field against the Storm, and Chris McQueen was a big part of that vulnerability. Twice he got caught flat-footed and in one instance prone to the easiest of fends (albeit against quite the bopper):

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And here (right at the start when he falls off Cameron Munster):

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He may not be the only one at fault but there are clearly gaps to exploit around that middle of the park and McQueen’s averaging three misses a game during this five match losing streak of theirs, including a six-miss “effort” versus the Sharks. Remember, he’s a converted winger.

As such the Titans are prone to clever dummy half work off quick play-the-balls (as most clubs are, to be fair). The Roosters can exploit this after showing renewed passion in their running game behind quick play-the-balls and exceptional, constant support. Jake Friend needs to be the catalyst off the back of a quick PTB as he was against the Knights here:

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…and here:

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Meanwhile, the combination is only young — they’ve played just one first-grade game together and their preseason was spent with one of them practicing on the wing — but the pairing of Pearce and Mitchell showed early promise versus the Knights.

Pearce told Roosters Radio last week that Latrell was constantly calling for the pill in support, a good sign of confidence in the youngster. Neither of the following plays resulted in tries but the support of both players for each other’s runs is clearly there and is something to watch in the coming weeks.

Watch Latrell here hold off his gap run and time it to the knowledge of when Pearce is set to hit the line:

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And here when Pearce races up in lone support:

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The enthusiasm is there and the strengths of each player seem to complement the others’ well. Given time, this could be an exceptional combination and one to watch this coming Monday around that weak middle of the field for the Titans.

Gold Coast Titans

 The Titans have been on a bit of a slide recently. After starting the season 3-1 they’ve lost their last five games including a 38-0 pummelling at the hands of the Storm in Round 9. It’s a score the Roosters are familiar with, having flogged St Helens and the Knights just last round by the exact same scoreline to match their famous 1975 scoreline versus the Dragons in the Grand Final. What price is a repeat, one wonders?

But in good news for the Titans, the club has secured Nathan Peats for the remainder of the year after effectively being forced out of Parra — though it’s uncertain at this stage whether he’ll line up against the Roosters on Monday.

Roosters fans will get a glimpse of former Chook Nene “Hilario” Macdonald who lines up in the centres. With Latrell “Sprewell” Mitchell at fullback it’s somewhat of an NBA affair (only basketball fiends will understand the reference). All we need is Latrell’s brother Shaq to get a run and we have 60 per cent of a starting lineup — and no, LeDylan Napa doesn’t count.

1 William Zillman; 2 Nathan Davis; Josh Hoffman; Nene Macdonald; David Mead; 6 Tyrone Roberts; Ashley Taylor; David Shillington; Nathan Friend; 10 Ryan James; 11 Zeb Taia; 12 Chris McQueen; 13 Greg Bird. Interchange: 14 Luke Douglas; 15 Leivaha Pulu; 16 Agnatius Paasi; 17 Kierran Moseley; 18 Eddy Pettybourne; 19 Anthony Don. 

The Titans were everyone’s first or second pick for the spoon in the preseason, yet after starting the season well against poor competition they’ve since reverted to type amid repeated disruption in the halves — they lost Kane Elgey prior to the season, neophyte Ashley Taylor missed a game and Tyrone Roberts has missed a couple. The five losses have largely been close except for their two floggings at the hands of the Storm.

Last week they were particularly poor against the Storm, conceding 10 line breaks, missing 40 tackles and running nearly 400 fewer metres than their opponents. They threw up a donut and just the one line break… so let’s forget that game because they can clearly offer more than that. Right?

Yes. They do. Not much, but they do, and it’s in the form of this bloke, Agnatius Paasi:

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He made a name for himself in the Nines  to start this year and, while he’s been wildly erratic so far, he’s shown he can be a damaging runner on his day and as the above gif shows he’s not down until he’s down. He’s going to suck in some defensive focus and the backs need to be on guard for the Roosters in case he becomes a Taumalolo-style decoy for a shift out the back.

Meanwhile, following the loss of Elgey for the year, Ashley Taylor was thrust into the halfback spot and shown a bit of promise. And confidence. Near the line he’s shown the ability to back himself and read what the defence gives him as he did against the Sharks not long ago:

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The Roosters need to be on guard, but honestly if their defence holds up against a weak opposition as it did in round nine when they didn’t concede a line break, they’ll be just fine.

Prediction?

Every game from here on out is make or break if the Roosters honestly hold any hope of making the finals. The Parramatta Cap scandal revealed that the Eels now need to win 12 of 15 to have a real shot at a top eight spot. Well, the Roosters are just four points ahead of them on the table. So they need to win at least 10 of 15 and a few of them comfortably to get that for-and-against up.

This website has long maintained that this year was never really about a shot at the title — it predicted the Roosters would finish 10th on percentages after all. But given the rough start and so many heart-breaking losses, even challenging for the top eight would be an effort.

This should be a comfortable win for the Roosters, even accounting for the absence of their best attacking outside back and their most damaging ball runner in SST (due back next week, by the way). They showed how valuable Pearce is to the attack and the confidence he brings to the rest of the players, the majority of whom have never played with another halfback prior to this year for more than a handful of games. They supported every run, tackled with conviction and looked confident for the first time all year.

Roosters 13+. Surely.

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