The Titans hadn’t won a game since Round 5 when they took on the Raiders at GIO on Saturday afternoon, while their heartbreaking 9-10 loss to the Sharks last weekend made them even hungrier for an opportunity to get their 2018 season back on track. Meanwhile, the Raiders have enjoyed a pretty good couple of weeks, despite being smashed by the Bunnies in Round 7, and were surely keen to put their disastrous start to the season even further behind them with a convincing home win.
What ensued was one of the most dominant openings of the year so far, as the Raiders simply stormed over Gold Coast to put down three tries in quick succession. The first came from Iosia Soliola on the back of a decoy run from Joey Leilua, leaving the Titans defence in total disarray. Shortly after, Joseph Tapine put down his first try of 2018 off a short ball from Blake Austin that allowed him to run through Gold Coast untouched, with Jarrod Croker now missing the two to keep the score at 10-0.
It didn’t stay that way for long, however, as Canberra seemed to be able to use even their rare clumsy moments to their advantage, as evinced in a spectacular sequence in which Jack Wighton jumped to catch the high ball and totally missed it, in a comic set piece that initially recalled Aaron Woods’ high five to nobody during Origin last year. Nevertheless, Canberra autocorrected almost immediately, as Croker slammed forward for a second go to get the footy to ground, before adding the extras to put the Raiders another six points ahead of a Titans outfit who were yet to be on the board.
If that wasn’t bad enough for Gold Coast, then successive injuries to Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow bled them of manpower, forcing Jack Stockwell and Keegan Hipgrave to come off the bench much earlier than expected. For a moment, Konrad Hurrell looked as if he might be sent to the bin for a professional foul, depleting the Titans even further. As it turned out, the Bunker made the right decision to rule that Koni hadn’t come out of the line by chasing the football, but it was still another momentary scare for the Titans, even if it also showcased their desperation under pressure too.
That desperation didn’t pay any immediate dividends, however, since it was only a couple of minutes later that the Raiders clocked up a fourth try, thanks to some well-timed movement to the left of the field, culminating with a high ball from Wighton to Nick Cotric. You could probably call it a harbour bridge pass if it hadn’t been so short and concise, simply popping over Anthony Don’s head to add insult to injury after the Gold Coast winger had failed to clean up Croker on the previous try.
The stage seemed set for a landslide, then, as the Titans steeled themselves against a 20-0 scoreline with fifteen minutes left until the break. With six minutes to go they forced a repeat set, only for Taylor to lose the ball on the third tackle during a big hit from Whitehead, in the midst of passing it across to Kevin Proctor. No moment has so eloquently encapsulated Taylor’s decreased presence in 2018, as the Titans headed to the sheds after one of their most dispiriting first halves of footy this year.
Still, that just made the first part of the next forty one of their most impressive turnarounds this year, as they started to put down points as quickly as the Raiders had in the first stanza. Not surprisingly, it all started with Philip Sami, who collected the Steeden under pressure in the in-goal area at the end of a powerful Canberra set, and then set the foundation for some quick, hard movement up the field that was rapidly bolstered following a penalty for a dangerous tackle from Whitehead.
A few tackles later, and all it took was a grubber from Mitch Rein for Ryan James to score the first try for Gold Coast – a moment that was all the more cathartic in that this second half had opened with an error from Moeaki Fotuika and then a penalty for a slow peel from James himself. With Michael Gordon adding the extras the Titans were pumped, and a shoulder charge from Tapine on the restart just fueled their momentum, as did a rare moment of weakness from the Raiders right edge, after Joey Leilua gifted Gold Coast six more after being caught offside within the ten.
From there, a small grubber from Taylor right on the line bounced off Croker and sat up perfectly for Proctor to scoop it into his chest and land over the chalk for another six points once Gordon had slotted the Steeden through the posts. It was a rousing moment for the Titans given the way in which Taylor’s combination with Proctor had come undone at the end of the first half, and yet an error from Konrad Hurrell a couple of sets later halted any momentum that the visitors had managed to accrue.
To make matters worse, it resulted in the most dramatic try of the afternoon so far from the Raiders – or perhaps just the strongest, as Shannon Boyd slammed through Rein and Proctor, and didn’t even give James time to get over, to put down yet another four points. If there was ever a player to insist upon the Raiders’ supremacy, then it was Boyd, and the big man seemed galvanised by his try, putting in a damaging run on the next set, and then getting the ball to Sezer again right on the line, only for the Canberra halfback to cough it up directly beneath the uprights.
Still, the Raiders had already proved just how quickly they could self-correct, and in some ways it was almost worth Sezer losing the ball for the sake of the try that followed. It started with the Raiders once again backing their right edge, sending the footy over to the corner where a beautiful one-handed flick pass from Leilua saw Rapana collect the Steeden with Philip Sami right up in his face, only to showcase his ballet skills by leaping off his left foot to land, ball-first, just to the side of the corner post.
In its elegance, economy and dexterity, it was just what Canberra needed to make up for the shock of seeing the first Gold Coast try facilitated by their fortress of a right edge, while the fact of it being Rapana to put down the points felt just as significant as Boyd’s presence slightly earlier, since it never quite seems like a Raiders landslide unless their stunning no. 5 manages to get something on the board too.
Between Boyd and Rapana, then, the Raiders had showcased the full spectrum of their skill sets to cancel out the Titans’ two successive tries almost as rapidly as Gold Coast had scored them, resuming their twenty-point lead to bring the differential to 32-12 with about twenty minutes left on the clock. It didn’t hurt, either, that it had been Sami who had been the casualty of Rapana’s four points, given the role he’d played in the Gold Coast resurgence, nor that he lost the ball at the sixty-third just as he was breaking through the line, thanks to a terrific takedown from Blake Austin.
The Titans’ woes continued as a combined tackle from Bateman and Junior Paulo saw Keegan Hipgrave taken off for an HIA, having come on in the first place to replace Arrow, who at this very point was being taken to hospital for what appeared to be a fairly serious injury. Back on the field, Jack Stockwell subbed on for the young forward, as Gold Coast settled in to try and endure the last part of the match as best they could, and to attempt to down a couple of more tries if they could manage it.
For a moment, there, it didn’t look as if they could, with a huge hit from Tapine winding James shortly after, and then a big boot from Sezer splitting the back two Titans players, disheveling Sami into knocking the footy on in the process of collecting it. Yet a linebreak from Taylor, a few offloads, and a hard run right on the line from Fotuaika gave Gold Coast a second wind, as Max King crossed over for his first NRL try one day after his twenty-first birthday, and Gordon added the extras.
While it was too little too late for the visitors, they made more of a dent in the Canberra side than might have been expected from some moments in the game, and that will have to sustain them as they prepare for the fairly unenviable prospect of taking on the Storm at Suncorp next week. On the other side of the Steeden, the Raiders can be proud of a well-earned win, but are going to want to refine their defence even further for when they front up against the Sharks at GIO once again.