Sunday afternoon’s match at Robina felt like another world during Round 13 – all blue skies and sunny turf in the midst of a sodden weekend of football back in Sydney. Both teams were at three wins and nine losses this season, sitting at thirteenth and fourteenth on the ladder, although the Cows had won their last ten fixtures against Gold Coast, and had all their key players back on the park for the first time in a while.
Kyle Feldt started strong with a linebreak down the right edge on only the second North Queensland set, but the Titans got the first points when Mitch Dunn made the opening error of the game, putting down a chest pass from Michael Morgan midway up the field – not the best way to welcome back his captain after a couple of weeks on the sideline. Nathan Peats started a right sweep on the fourth play, and it came together beautifully for Anthony Don, who leaped off his left boot and got the ball down off a terrific bullet pass from AJ Brimson. Ash Taylor missed the two from the sideline, but the Titans still felt ready to play good football, pumped by a very strong performance against the Roosters last week.
They made big metres on the restart, although Hamison Tabuai-Fidow had no problem collecting Jamal Fogarty’s kick on the last, while North Queensland got their first penalty on the very next play, when Brian Kelly was called offside. Coen Hess got the high ball at the end of it all, but knocked it on, letting the Titans off the hook, as Kelly made up for his mistake by stripping the ball off Tom Opacic two tackles into the next North Queensland set.
Moeika Fotuaika now took a hard run in front of the posts, and the Titans headed left, where Kevin Proctor was wrapped up in the same place Kelly had eventually been contained a few plays before, although the Cows were still probably surprised to be getting so much heat so early in the match. They spread the ball right early in the next tackle count, but didn’t get to their final play, as Ben Hampton, who was starting at five-eighth in consecutive games for the first time since 2014, lost the footy into a low tackle from Dale Copley halfway up the park.Embed from Getty Images
Gold Coast got the first restart on their first tackle, and Kelly was restless to break through the line a play later, laying the foundation for a Taylor grubber that sat up nicely for Proctor, who nevertheless knocked it forward, giving North Queensland their biggest letoff so far, and then their first big attacking opportunity, when Opacic and O’Neill muscled Don over the sideline after he collected a Hampton kick. Now it was the Cowboys’ turn to get a repeat set on their first play, when Peats was pinged for a high hit, but they wasted it on the second, when Dunn sent out what appeared to be an intentional forward pass to Hess.
The Titans got out of their own end immediately with an offside penalty from Hampton, and Taylor caught-and-passed for Brimson to make big metres up the right side on the third, before Peats drifted across field on the fourth, and Fogarty forced the first dropout with a dangerous grubber beneath the crossbars, where the Hammer had no choice but to gather it into his chest.
Kelly now made a barnstorming run on the second play, but dropped the ball on the last, marking the second big letoff for North Queensland, although Josh McGuire lost it just as quickly, setting up Gold Coast for their next scrum and try. This next sequence was all the big men, as Keegan Hipgrave and Jai Arrow laid the platform for Proctor to slam over on the left edge, where the replay showed him maintaining solid possession of the Steeden with his right hand as Dunn, Feldt and Connelly Lemuelu tumbled around him, although it remained an eight point lead when Fogarty took over conversion duties from Taylor, but also missed from the sideline.
This was pretty low point-scoring given that Gold Coast had enjoyed nearly 70% of possession, so you probably wouldn’t have guessed that they would accelerate to thirty by the final siren. That said, this was only the second time in 2020 that the Titans had led 8-0, so it did betoken something special, especially when all Kelly’s restless energy crystallised into a sublime break down the left side on the restart, where he shifted the footy inside for Brimson to put down back-to-back tries for this resurgent Gold Coast outfit.Embed from Getty Images
This was both one of the best linebreaks and try assists of the year, as Kelly fended off Leumuelu and broke through both a regular tackle and last-ditch ankle tap from Morgan, with Fogarty consolidating by booting through the first conversion to bring Gold Coast to an unanswered fourteen points. For a moment they looked set to score on the restart with an offside penalty from Dunn on the first tackle, but Feldt cleaned it up on the last, and just beat Philip Sami to the footy on the following Gold Coast set.
For a few minutes the game settled back into a regular rhythm, but the Titans accelerated again after getting Tyrone Peachey and Sam Lisone off the bench, recovering from a Feldt linebreak to capitalise on a restart and escorts penalty from Morgan for their simplest and most elegant try so far – a compressed left sweep from Peats and Taylor that ended with Proctor bumping into the defence and using the momentum to launch the footy out to his fullback, who crossed over for a double five minutes out from the break.
Feldt kicked the restart out on the full, and Taylor slid over a moment later, but the try was called back for a technical obstruction from Proctor on Granville, since the Gold Coast captain’s actions didn’t have anything to do with Morgan’s poor defensive read here – a disappointing moment for Gold Coast, even if they did send the Cowboys into the sheds without a single point on the board.
Still, they got some joy as soon as they returned to the park, off a dangerous tackle from Tom Gilbert, and a deft grubber from Fogarty, which Feldt assumed was going to bounce dead, only for Proctor to sail over the back line like a superhero to tap it back in play with his right hand, managing to land the Steeden a few centimetres inside the chalk, and so leaving it open for Kelly to beat the Hammer and put it down with one hand. Fogarty’s next kick wasn’t so good – another missed conversion – and the Titans would have been 30-0 if they’d managed their goal kicking better.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless, this was a barnstorming start to the second stanza, even if Kelly put the ball over the sideline two tackles into the restart, right when Brimson could have sent Sami untouched up the short side with a cut-out pass across Kelly’s chest. Peats gave the Cows more traction with a high shot on Hampton, and the visitors finally scored their first try after a restart right on the Gold Coast line.
The big men laid the foundation on the first few tackles, before Feldt got some closure for letting through Proctor, effectively repeating the same play by getting ahead of Sami as he waited for a Morgan kick to go dead, only to watch it tumble between his legs and remain live for Feldt to dash in and pop it down with his right hand for the softest try of the afternoon. If anyone was going to put the Titans’ goal-kicking to shame you’d think it would be Feldt, but the cult winger shanked it away to the left here, keeping it to a twenty-point lead at 24-4.
Nevertheless, the Cows also went back-to-back when Hampton’s next kick forced Brimson to reach out a right hand to try and block the sun, but found the glare defying him – a pretty surreal headache give the torrential rain flooding the Sydney venues over the weekend. Opacic and Francis Molo got the set rolling with big runs, Jason Taumalolo centred the play, Granville popped a short ball across to Emry Pere on debut, and Tabuai-Fidow brought it all together with a cut-out pass to O’Neill, who kept his left boot a centimeter off the sideline, although the replay suggested that maybe his right foot had crossed over after the try was approved by the Bunker.
This time Feldt added the extras, and the Cows were only half Gold Coast, who dug in deep to build towards their next and final try, getting a head start when Morgan booted the ball out on the full for the second time in the game. Hess was penalised for holding down Jarrod Wallace a tackle later, and the big prop responded with an offload that nobody expected on the second play, with Kelly actually standing with his back to it, hand on hips. Kelly tried to redeem his inattention by collecting a crossfield effort from Fogarty and passing the footy over Granville’s head to Brimson right on the line, only to tangle himself up in the cover defence as the potential try assist came to nothing.Embed from Getty Images
Taylor helped steady the ship with a terrific tackle on Tabuai-Fidow beneath the next Gold Coast high ball, while Fogarty’s next kick split the North Queensland backline, only just sitting up for O’Neill on the try line to help his men recoup some field position and possession after the visitors had started to clean up their completions in the wake of the break. Nevertheless a messy period now ensued for Gold Coast, as Wallace was pinged for a ball strip, and Peachey followed with a swinging arm on Maclean in front of the posts, setting up North Queensland for a good tryscoring opportunity only for Maclean to lose the footy into a muscular tackle from Don and Hipgrave on play four. The errors were starting to accumulate, and the next trio of mistakes from Morgan, Feldt and O’Neill were the tipping-point.
Just as Feldt had got some joy after letting Proctor through, so Sami now did the same after letting Feldt through, collecting a huge cut-out pass from Jaimin Jolliffe that sailed past Proctor, Kelly and Feldt and then bounced on the ground, sitting up perfectly for him to get his head down and burrow back inside through two North Queensland defenders to slam the footy down. Fogarty’s kick was the icing on the cake – a superb sideline effort that wasn’t just the best conversion of the night, but one of the best conversions of Round 13 full stop, cementing Gold Coast as the top team in Queensland, as the Cows tried in vain to put down another point over the last ten minutes of the match.
Their best chance came with a linebreak from Taumalolo and a subsequent dropout, but once again a Maclean error proved costly, as they came away a third of Gold Coast at 30-10, and their biggest ever loss to the Titans – a pretty disappointing outcome given that this was a milestone match for Feldt, who became the third highest point scorer in North Queensland history, after Ty Williams and Matt Bowen, following his conversion of O’Neill’s four-pointer.
They’ll be looking to recover their recent form, then, when they take on a South Sydney outfit flush from beating the Broncos on Friday night, while the Titans will be keen to challenge themselves, and draw on their best moments at Cbus, when they rock up to take on a Cronulla team frustrated by their two-point loss against the Eels in sodden conditions at Kogarah this same afternoon.