This is Part 11 of my series, speaking with fans from all NRL sides to see what it’s really like to support their team. This week, the Gold Coast Titans.
The Gold Coast were not known for having a successful rugby league team. The Seagulls, the Chargers – clubs who came, failed, then left.
So, in 2007 when the Titans entered the competition, the league community rolled their eyes at yet another Gold Coast team that were expected to do nothing, and who wouldn’t last long.
But with names like Scott Prince, Preston Campbell, Luke Bailey, and Mat Rogers, the locals were excited. This could be a team to be proud of. A team that would compete. A team that would stick around.
It’s been a long road, but the Titans are still here. And over the last couple of seasons have shown just what they can do. If it wasn’t for a poor pass from Patrick Herbert right on fulltime that saw the Roosters advance to week two of the finals, who knows where the Titans could have finished?
Their fans, that’s who. Their passionate and loyal fans who believe in their team, and know they are close to producing something special.
I spoke to two of those supporters, Anthony and Tom.
I started by ripping off the band-aid and asking the guys how they felt after ‘that pass’. Were they still having nightmares?
“Oh yes,” Tom answered. “I still think about it. I love Herbert, it’s just David Fifita was right there, and Corey Thompson was wide open. After the Game 1 was so empty inside. Losing any game sucks, but when it was decided by a pass in our first finals game since 2016, that hurts on an entirely different level. But it’s happened, can’t change it and we just need to look forward.”
Anthony was a mess after the game. “You can ask my fiancé – I don’t think I spoke for three days! Even though it was a great performance by the club, it is heartbreaking to think of how far we would have gone if that pass was successful. I still love Patty Herbert though!”
I asked when and why they became Titans fans. For Tom, it’s been since the beginning. “I didn’t have a team to support at the time, and I was – and still am – a massive fan of Scott Prince. Halftime at the 2006 grand final, they brought out the new Gold Coast Titans side onto the field, and once I saw Prince, that was it.”
“It was 2009 for me,” Anthony added. ‘Watching the likes of Campbell, Prince and Rogers steer the team around with so many other exciting talents, I fell in love with the overall brand and feel of the club and have been a fan ever since.”
The Gold Coast is known as a party place, and the team has that stigma attached to them. What do the Titans have to do to be taken seriously and become a real title threat?
“It is definitely still seen that way by many NRL fans,” Anthony replied. “And the occasional cocaine joke still arises, but I think we are turning it around. I think the strong juniors are showing that we are a serious rugby league city.”
“Just keep doing what we are doing,” added Tom. “We are recruiting well; the squad seems to really believe in themselves. They are constantly talking about wanting to be better, wanting to be a part of this club and are pushing one another.”
Corey Thompson is one of the NRL’s most underrated players. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
There is always so much talk around David Fifita. Some people just love him, and others feel he should be doing more because of his talent and pay cheque. How do the guys view him and are they glad he is on their side?
“I love him and I’m so grateful we have him,” Tom responded. “His first season was a big one for him and the club. Broke the record for most tries in a season by a Titan and was solid in defence. And apparently, he needed four needles every game just to numb the rib cartilage injury he did against the Cowboys in Round 21. To me that shows he’s committed to the club and he’s only 21. Now that he’s having a fully fit pre-season and all the injuries are gone, I expect him to have a season no one will forget.”
“I cannot believe the criticism this guy cops,” Anthony said, shaking his head. “I could not be happier that he is a Titan. I know he is a million-dollar player and pressure comes with that, but his stats are crazy good, and better than most second rowers in the game. He led the entire competition in tackle busts with 155, was seventh in line breaks and broke the Titans yearly try scoring record.”
Another million-dollar player, Ash Taylor, was expected to be the next big superstar and then it all fell apart. Did the money pressure get to him? Tom believes so.
“When we re-signed him on that massive contract, he was one of the most promising players the game had. We feared losing him, so we offered him this massive deal, and it didn’t work. Secondly, he didn’t have a lot of consistency. He had three different coaches in five years, numerous halves partners and just so much uncertainty around the club. He didn’t get to build that relationship with someone, and I believe it impacted him dearly.
Ash Taylor (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)
Anthony was sad to see him go. “His first season for the club was incredible and he followed it up with a few more solid years to be in Origin contention. I think like a lot of young players the price tag took its toll and he also suffered so many injuries. I really hope he does well because he has the talent.”
I asked if the guys thought Justin Holbrook is the right coach for the Titans.
“I do,” answered Tom. “His record over in England speaks for itself. In two seasons, he has taken us from a squad that finished 16th in 2019 to making the finals 2021. I thought it was going to be years before I saw the Titans back, but he’s done it.”
Anthony was a bit sceptical at first. ‘But now I 110per cent believe in him. The difference he has made to this club is so underrated.”
Tyrone Peachey, Jamal Fogarty, and Mitch Rein have moved on, and fan favourite Anthony Don was forced to retire. How do the club move forward without those guys?
“It will be tough,” answered Tom.
“Don is a massive loss on-field for his experience and try scoring ability, Jamal was our leader, Peachy added a bit of spark and had utility value, and Rein was experienced. But we’ve got young Toby Sexton ready to lead the team, Corey Thompson the experienced winger, Will Smith coming in to bring experience and utility value, we’ve got Erin Clark, Tanah Boyd and Aaron Booth all competing for the 9 spot, and Isaac Liu coming in as a two-time premiership winner.
“We’ve recruited smart and bought guys who’ll have an impact on and off field.
“But we’ve got to back the halves and decide about the 9 as they are the most important positions we’ve got to get right.”
Anthony agreed with Tom, and added ‘Greg Marzhew and Phillip Sami are good young talents who should partner Thompson well too.”
I asked if the guys were excited that the Titans now have an NRLW team.
Anthony answered, “It is absolutely fantastic news and just shows how strong the club’s brand is right now. There are so many brilliant female footballers on the Gold Coast so this will give them an opportunity to break through and play on the big stage. It is great news for women and the Titans as a whole.”
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Tom feels the same. “I am extremely excited for the NRLW side. Ever since the competition was announced I wanted us to have an NRLW side. It’s so exciting, not just for me but for the game. To have another QLD side to compete with the Broncos, to have a part of history being made for our club, it’s amazing.”
I had a feeling I knew the answer, but I asked the guys who their favourite past Titan player was. I was right – Scott Prince.
“He was so good to watch,” Tom replied. “He could kick, pass, run, do it all and it makes me sad we never won a comp with him.”
“He made me fall in love with the Titans,” Anthony added, “and he was such a great leader for the club. I was devastated when he left.”
And their current favourite? For Tom, it’s Fifita. “The guy is a monster already at 21. I get so excited every time he gets the ball in his hands, you just know he can create something out of absolutely nothing and the scary thing is, he will only just keep getting better.”
It’s a toss-up between Fifita and Brimson for Anthony. “Brimmo’s electrifying speed with the ball is brilliant to watch and I’m lucky enough to have a few signed jerseys of his. Fifita because I nearly tore my hamstring multiple times this year jumping up out of the couch when he would manhandle 6 players and score a try.”
What were the guys most looking forward to this season, and who were they expecting big things from?
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the young spine come together,” Tom answered. “Jayden Campbell. AJ, Toby Sexton and either Erin Clark, Tanah Boyd or Aaron Booth to complete it. It has got so much potential to be one of the most electrifying and dominate spines in the comp and I haven’t been excited for a spine in a long time.
David Fifita (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
I’m expecting big things from Marzhew. He played a handful of games last season, but he looked so good out on the field. His strength, speed and power are amazing, and all the good sides have a winger that can carry the ball up and make a few metres for the side or break tackles. He reminds me a lot of Brian To’o.”
“It is an exciting time to be a Titans fan,” added Anthony. “But as Titans fans know best – we can’t get too arrogant. I really hope this year is the year we put it all together and continue up the ladder. I am most looking forward to watching the young talent – AJ, Fifita, Campbell, Sexton, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui – all make their mark.
I am expecting a big season from Sexton and Beau Fermor. Fermor is super underrated. I am anticipating line breaks like his break in the final against the Roosters. I think he may even come into Origin contention if he can cement a regular starting spot with us.”
Final question as always, if you could say anything to the team, what would it be?
Tom was very motivational. “You’ve built yourselves to be a top 8 side, but now it is time to go further, now it is time to be the giants of the competition, to be the side who rises up and builds a legacy like no other.
You are so close to making it happen, this is the most exciting the club has been in years, but it requires everything. Every minute of every game, and I believe you can do it. Keep working hard, keep playing hard and the premiership will happen.”
“Us Titans fans are 110 per cent behind you,” Anthony said proudly. “This is possibly the best crop of players I have seen in the last decade. Use the motivation of last year’s heartbreak to go a few steps more in 2022. Up the mighty Titans forever and always!”
The Titans were unlucky not to make it further in 2021. They will be out to prove this season they can mix it with the best, and their fans will be behind them every step of the way – knowing something colossal is just around the corner.