ROUND 9: Gold Coast Titans v. New Zealand Warriors (Cbus Super Stadium, 10/7/20)

The Warriors were wearing one of their most memorable jerseys of the season – the bush design – when they ran out at Cbus on Friday night, keen for back-to-back wins for the first time in 2020 after their spectacular win over Brisbane the week before. They got an early chance when Treymain Spry fumbled the first high ball in his first ever touch in an NRL game, sweeping from side to side until Roger Tuivasa-Sheck sent the footy over the right sideline while trying to offload out to the wing.

It was a ballsy move for RTS to make a Captain’s Challenge two and a half minutes in, but the risk paid off, since the footage showed that Beau Fermor had clearly got a hand to the ball. Tuivasa-Sheck made good on the previous play immediately, surging up the right edge out of the scrum and slicing through the line for the opening try. This was classic Roger the Dodger, as he got on the outside of Fermor, dummied away from Spry and then reached out his left palm to fend off Ash Taylor at the last.

You couldn’t have asked for a better play to pull down the pants of this inexperienced Gold Coast backline, especially since Chanel Harris-Tevita made it six with a superb sideline conversion a second later. New Zealand had an equally good restart, forcing Corey Thompson to get to his knees at an awkward angle to clean up the high ball – it pretty much dropped on him – before Moeaki Fotuaika coughed up the footy on the next tackle.

Once again the Warriors capitalised immediately, putting down their second try before the Titans had even got to a kick. Adam Blair made a big run up the middle on the second, and RTS laid the foundation for a left sweep that ended with a Chanel offload for Ken Maumalo to cross over for another four points. Maumalo almost fumbled the footy into the air, but regathered it beautifully with his left hand to tumble over untouched, despite a plethora of Gold Coast players in his immediate vicinity.

New Zealand had now scored more than a point per minute, and scored on both sides of the park, so the Titans looked pretty worried as they watched Chanel boot through an equally brilliant sideline conversion. This all betokened an enormous torrent of tries, but instead the visitors wouldn’t put another point on the board, as Gold Coast now commenced a slow but steady comeback that eventually saw them come away with a four point win.

That said, Thompson had to contort himself even further to collect Blake Green’s next kick, getting down on two knees and then leaning forward on his stomach to pull the footy into his chest, while the Titans still didn’t get to a kick on this set. At first, things looked good, as a quick play-the-ball from Fotuaika set up Erin Clark for a strong run up the middle, but when Jaimin Jolliffe offloaded a play later he sent it straight back to Peta Hiku on his outside.

Jamal Fogarty tried to compensate with a one-on-one strip on Maumalo on the next tackle but it went the Warriors’ way, and while Anthony Don came up with a slightly better gather at the end of the following set, and the Titans settled into their strongest attack so far, they still didn’t get to their last play, wasting their Captain’s Challenge to contest that David Fusitua had dragged Clark over the sideline on the fourth.

A quarter of an hour into the match and Gold Coast had no points, no Challenge and no kicks, so it was paramount they defend this next Warriors scrum to avoid losing control altogether. Sure enough, Jai Arrow spearheaded a good pack effort to hold up Hiku on the first, Fogarty followed with a strong effort on Blair, and Keegan Hipgrave concluded by dislodging the Steeden from Chanel’s grasp, getting his men a midfield scrum of their own.

The Titans now translated this methodical defence into attack, as Arrow started making up for his poor metre count against the Sharks las week, Jolliffe made good headway on the second, and Fotuaika made a sterling effort to break out of a tackle at the twenty, before Gold Coast got a much-needed penalty when Wayde Egan was called offside in the ten. Taylor risked a cut-out pass to Spry two plays later, but he was no match for Fusitua, who combined with Patrick Herbert to bump him into touch

We had a rare scrum push by the Titans, against the feed, a moment after, while Spry followed with his first really strong take under the high ball. Both of these gestures seemed to galvanise the home team, as Hipgrave sailed up the wing, Bryce Cartwright had his best run on the second, Jolliffe wisely reined in the offload on the third, and Fogarty barged through three defenders like a front-rower before Taylor executed his first bomb of the night.

With Fusitua bumping it forward Gold Coast had their best attacking chance so far – and they made the most of it, scoring straight out of the subsequent scrum, off a rapid right sweep that saw Thompson assist Don for their first four points. The pass from the ex-Tiger was great, but this was by no means a sure thing for Don, who twisted through Karl Lawton and somehow got his right hand free to ground the footy right as RTS and Hiku slammed in as last line of defence. 

There was a brief question of an eight point try after Hiku’s boot made contact with the Don’s head – and while the penalty was withheld, the Titans had still scored six on only their third completed set of the night. They had another incomplete one on the restart, as the next twenty minutes settled into a bit of a slog for both sides, with three denied tries undercutting the Warriors’ early momentum, suggesting that this might end up being a pretty close match.

The first near one came for the Titans, as Fermor crashed over the line but was held up by a scrambling New Zealand defence. The same occurred for Jazz Tevaga, who slammed down beside the posts half an hour in, only for Thompson and Fotuiaka to get beneath him. Finally, Jack Hetherington glimpsed his first NRL try after Fogarty cleaned up the kick, but instead he was penalised for running the Gold Coast halfback off the football, keeping it a six point game as both teams headed for the sheds.

Justin Holbrook’s spray in the sheds must have worked, since the Titans got to their kick on the first set back – a Fogarty bomb – and Spry was very secure under an even bigger bomb from Green a set later. This settled the game back into the cleanest set-for-set rhythm all night, albeit with a slight advantage Gold Coast’s way after Egan tried to milk a penalty by playing the ball straight into Jarrod Wallace.

Wallace responded with a strong run into Hetherington two plays later, and Sam Lisone drove Egan back to the twenty on the third, before a Fogarty grubber looked set to produce the first dropout of the night for Gold Coast, only to decelerate right at the try line for Maumalo to contain without too much trouble. Still, the Warriors were bunched in their own end now, forcing Green to kick within the forty, while the Titans continued to flow and expand next time they had ball in hand.

Thompson made an especially scintillating run early in the tackle count, and Carty followed with another fifteen metres, but the Gold Coast rhythm was briefly paused when Chanel was downed following a big clash with Don. The potential injury came from friendly fire, as Lawton and Hetherington tumbled over him to tackle Don, so it was relieving for the two big boppers when Chanel returned to his feet and play resumed.

The Titans didn’t show any signs of slowing down now, as Taylor’s next kick ricocheted off Jack Murchie to get his men six again – the perfect opportunity to consolidate their accelerating momentum. Sam Stone was unable to take a short ball from Taylor over the line, and so his first try since Newcastle went begging, but the Titans were unfazed, shifting the footy to the right edge where Carty fended off Hiku before sending it back inside for Tanah Boyd to tire out the New Zealand forwards in front of the posts.

Finally, Taylor dribbled his best grubber of the night off the right boot, sending it so low and fast that Tyrone Peachey could only pop it back in goal as he surged over the dead ball line. Stone now got his four points after all, bending to his knees to gather the footy into his chest before it careened back over the try line. This was the first really ingenious try of the evening, so it didn’t matter too much that Taylor shanked the kick away from the posts – Gold Coast were well and truly back.

Yet just as the Warriors had failed to capitalise on the first ten minutes of the game, so the Titans were unable to pile on the points here, waiting until the seventh-fourth minute to score the converted try that would end up deciding the match. They still had one of their more fluid sets on the restart, thanks to a restless run from Don across the face of the defence, followed by Green’s most vertical bomb of the night, which put Fusitua under considerable duress as he collected it on the restart.

New Zealand were clearly nettled by this change in pace, as Harris stuffed up the next play-the-ball, and the Titans got a restart, thanks to a ruck error from Herbert. Hiku found his men some breathing-space with a perfectly timed tackled just as Thompson was shaping to catch-and-pass, but the Gold Coast fullback regathered with his best take so far, leaping up a metre and a half, Fusitua-like, to contain a shallow Green bomb.

Conversely, Maumalo was forced to scoop up Taylor’s next kick right on the try line. Agantius Paasi was unable to get away an offload a play later, Lisone cleaned up Isaiah Papali’i before he could start a right sweep midway up the field, and Thompson didn’t have to try so hard to clean up Green’s next bomb, so there was no doubt that the Titans had regathered the upper hand, as New Zealand searched in vain for their first points since the ninth minute of the match.

They got their chance with an Arrow knock on a minute later, and for a second it felt like we were back in that early New Zealand flow, as RTS recapitulated all his opening brilliance on the right edge – first with a strong opening carry into three Gold Coast defenders, and then with a sublime no-look pass to Herbert. In one of the most agonising moments of the game, however, Herbert’s follow-up pass was aimed too high for Fusitua to contain before it sailed over the sideline.  

Even so, these two plays from RTS should have been the turning-point in the second half, but instead Fogarty’s next bomb tempted an escort from Hiku as Maumalo secured it. This was crunch time for the Titans, who had to score soon or else concede the momentum back to New Zealand, especially when they got a restart off a Papali’i ruck error, so it was a pretty drab finish when Harris simply cleaned up an early Peachey grubber with no real kick chase to speak of.

Things got worse for the Titans when Taylor was subbed off following a big clash with Herbert, although they got some luck when Fusitua and Spry came together for the high ball shortly after. It was a fine line between tackling in the air and playing the Steeden, but the balance went Spry’s way, while an unforced error from RTS eight minutes out finally gave them the field position and motivation they needed to edge ahead.

The Warriors cleaned up the first four plays but the Titans scored on the last, thanks to another beautiful Taylor grubber and another clutch play right on the dead ball line. Green wasn’t able to quite pop the footy into touch from the try line, Thompson jumped over Herbert and almost reached it, but Beau Fermor got the chocolates, putting down his first NRL try with both hands just before his right elbow and right knee slid into touch.

This was an amazing feat for Fermor in only his second game, especially since he spent his debut in the back row – exactly the kind of try that Gold Coast deserved after executing such a staunch comeback. The Warriors got a dropout in the last minute, and had three successive Gold Coast errors to play with before the final siren rang out, but they’ll have to wait until next week’s game against Cronulla for another shot at competition points, while the Titans will be raring to take on the Storm on Friday.

About Billy Stevenson (509 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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