The Gold Coast has long been regarded as a rugby league graveyard.
The transient supporter base throughout Australia’s most popular tourist strip is blamed for the constant demise, while on-field performances do not do the game any justice.
The Gold Coast-Tweed Giants, the Gold Coast Seagulls, the brief incarnation of the Gold Coast Gladiators and of course the Gold Coast Chargers are often the butt of rugby league jokes and some performances in recent times have had many pundits predicting the same fate for the Gold Coast Titans.
The club has a history of dud signings that have left the club’s fans dumbfounded, off-field dramas that have tarnished the club’s image and at times performances that make you question their commitment and dedication to the jersey they were wearing, the area it represented or the individuals that helped complete the rugby league community.
Fans of the Gold Coast Titans are definitely beginning to feel a buzz around the club, the team and its fresh new look. This is a buzz that has been lacking at the club since the announcement of the signing of Jarryd Hayne, or leading up to our first finals appearance way back in 2009.
But it is a buzz nonetheless that is getting ever so stronger as each game passes and we move towards the 2021 season. The buzz that is being felt has been there in the background simmering away, building in intensity ever since former coach Garth Brennan was given his marching orders on 14 July last year after coaching the team to just 12 wins from a possible 40 matches.
It is the electrifying, pulsating buzz that has been building ever since those in charge at the Titans turned down the offer of the great master coach himself Wayne Bennett – leading to his recruitment to the South Sydney Rabbitohs – stating the club instead wanted to go in a different direction.
And it is a buzz that has increased in intensity ever since the announcement that Justin Holbrook, who had guided his St Helens side in the English Super League to 70 wins from 87 matches, had agreed to become the new coach from 2020.
That buzz that Gold Coast Titans supporters have been feeling for the past 12 months is finally evolving and other rugby league pundits are now recognising just how much they have all under-estimated the Gold Coast Titans and their supporter base, as 2021 shapes to be the year of the Titans.
Excitement was building among the fans of the Gold Coast Titans once it was announced that St Helens coach Justin Holbrook had agreed to terms to become the head coach of the Gold Coast Titans.
It was regarded as the hottest seat in the NRL, one that taking would immediately put you under the microscope and if all of the news articles read across the various websites were to be believed, the Titans’ hierarchy had offered the role to Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters and he turned them down.
The Walker brothers had applied for the job and been interviewed, but their expansive attacking rugby league style was deemed to be too risky for NRL level.
We have also since found out that Wayne Bennett, in the middle of his messy departure from the Brisbane Broncos, had offered to coach the Titans for $600,000 per season from 2020. The club rejected this offer, declaring they wished to go in a different direction.
And a different direction did they go. It seemed out of left field, and not a name many people had tossed up during their panel shows or breakfast radio yarns, and it seemed to be a whirlwind couple of days.
First the name Justin Holbrook came up, which for many local fans of the game meant a quick search on Google to find out who he was. His successful record and reputation was an immediate draw card: 70 wins from 87 matches as a rookie coach.
He was someone who demanded results, and expected his team and his players to live up to the standards he had set. He is a man whose passion and charisma helped him appreciate his players’ efforts even when on the wrong end of the score line.
Justin Holbrook, however, is not a magic wand. He inherited a team filled with overpaid players, and those it seemed Garth Brennan couldn’t do without. Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey immediately jump to mind.
Players were on heavily back-loaded contracts, and with all players signed to varying terms of length, it was always going to be hard for Justin Holbrook to immediately get results. He had a team that was broken, they were shattered, and a team who always somehow found a way to lose.
It may have taken time off due to a global pandemic but you need to be proud of the fight, the desire in the shirt, the passion in their plays and that things are changing at the Gold Coast Titans. Once the laughing stock of the rugby league world, the team are on their way up and the excitement is building to the possibility of a return to finals football in 2021.
It’s a discussion that is had every season. And it is in no way exclusive to the Gold Coast Titans, each and every club goes through it. The issue is player turn over.
Who should a club extend? Who does a club let go? And who does a club go after on the open market?
Players that we love are let go, and players we as fans are unsure about stay. Then as has become habit for the Titans, the club pays overs for players to entice them to the glitter strip.
The 2020 season will see Titans fans bid farewell to Titan number 55 Ryan James, the former captain of the club who has suffered two career-threatening ACL injuries that saw him sit out the majority of the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
After 144 games for the club including 30 tries, James – who was on the cusp of New South Wales State of Origin representation – has inked a deal with the Canberra Raiders as he attempts to resurrect his career.
Queensland State of Origin representative Jai Arrow is also heading for greener pastures after signing on the dotted line earlier this season with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Meanwhile big names such as Dale Copley, Keegan Hipgrave, Jaimin Jolliffe, Nathan Peats, Kevin Proctor and Tyrone Roberts remain off contract with timing running out to plead their case to the Titans’ hierarchy that they deserve a new contract.
The Gold Coast Titans, with Justin Holbrook and Mal Meninga attempting to build a new culture, have already made big moves on the player market that help build the electric vibe we are all feeling.
Earlier in the season the Titans had pulled off a signing coup, snatching Tino Fa’asuamaleaui from the Melbourne Storm. Offering $700,000 a season over three years was enough to secure the youngster’s signature after a tug-of-war battle with the New Zealand Warriors.
Shortly after securing the signature of Fa’asuamaleaui, the Titans further strengthened their forward pack for the 2021 season, securing the signature of Herman Ese’ese from Newcastle, and the biggest coup of all was landing the signature of David Fifita on a $3,500,000 three-year-deal from their big brother the Brisbane Broncos in what might end up becoming the biggest power move in the history of the club.
What this has done for the squad is made the forward pack step up and try to retain a spot in the starting side for next season with so much talent coming to the club, which has had an immediate impact on the recent results of the Gold Coast Titans on the field.
The Gold Coast Titans’ playing group has gone to another level, a level that has disappeared in recent times. It is a level of commitment to the jumper, to the area they represent, and you can see them fighting in the matches.
You see them hurt when results don’t go our way, you see them put their bodies on the line – and their careers – because Meninga, Holbrook and the back-end crew have brought respect, tradition and culture to the club.
Over the years there have been a number of instances in which the players can be accused of simply hunting the pay check, and due to their turbulent history the club seemed more than happy to pay overs just to lure players to the Gold Coast.
At times the jersey seemed like it had become a joke, handed out like balloon animals at a kid’s fifth birthday party.
The respect for the shirt has returned, players are playing for their future, and that can only be a good thing for any club and can only result in on-field improvements. And that excitement of energy that we have felt building will soon be upon us.
In 2010 the Titans went from surprise premiership contenders to cellar dwellers and have hung around there since. In the ravaged 2020 premiership the Gold Coast Titans have become the best club in Queensland thanks largely to the very public downfall of the Brisbane Broncos.
The 2021 season will be the year that the Gold Coast Titans return to finals football, 2021 will be the year Anthony Don will bring up 100 tries for the Gold Coast Titans, and 2021 will be the year that the impact of Justin Holbrook will begin to be truly seen.