The Gold Coast Titans have again showed their class and flexed their premiership muscle, holding out the Brisbane Broncos to record an impressive home victory at Skilled Park, Robina.
The Gold Coast are genuine premiership contenders and Prince deserving of a spot in the Australian team to play New Zealand in the Centenary Test at the SCG on May 9.
The 28-year-old playmaker had a hand in all but one of Gold Coast’s five tries and his kicking game kept the Broncos on the back foot all game.
Still, Prince had to survive a nervous end to the match after dropping the ball two minutes from full-time in a rare mistake and being unable to stop opposite Peter Wallace from scoring under the posts.
Despite Prince being controversially shouldered to the ground by Brisbane hooker Michael Ennis, video referee Tim Mander gave the benefit of the doubt to the Broncos and awarded the try to leave the capacity 27,176 crowd on the edge of their seats.
After trailing 16-0 midway through the first half, the Broncos alway appeared unlikely to overcome the loss of star fullback Karmichael Hunt with a knee injury in the 25th minute and snatch victory but their enterprising play in the second term ensured a contest to the end.
With Hunt off, Darius Boyd shifted to fullback and he scored one of the tries of the season in the 43rd minute to narrow Brisbane’s deficit to 16-14 after the Broncos shifted the ball wide on their own line and Steve Michaels sprinted 80 metres in a run reminiscent of Steve Renouf.
But the Broncos fell short and there could be more worries ahead for Brisbane management, who are in a desperate search for a coach to replace Wayne Bennett next after Craig Bellamy’s re-signing with Melbourne, with stand-in captain Justin Hodges placed on report for up-ending Ashley Harrison in back play during the first half.
The Titans’ performance was even more impressive given that they were without the injured Luke Bailey and Mat Rogers, whose four-match suspension for a dangerous throw dominated discussion on the Gold Coast right up to kick-off. Even Rogers’ children got to express their opinion on the judiciary verdict, with his daughter Skyla telling the dual international’s wife Chloe Maxwell during a live broadcast outside Skilled Park for Sea FM: “It’s gay.”
Bailey was also engaged in some media work before the match, but by the time he had taken his seat for the game, the home side were already on the scoreboard after winger Matt Petersen outleapt his opposite Denan Kemp to pull down a Prince bomb on the last tackle of the opening set and dived over in the corner.
After crossing in the same spot in the 10th minute following an Anthony Laffranchi offload and long pass from Nathan Friend, Petersen’s nickname should be changed from “Sideshow Bob” – after The Simpsons character – to “Sideline Bob”.
When Prince put Harrison, playing five-eighth in the absence of Rogers, over seven minutes later with a perfectly timed pass that cut out Mark Minichiello, the Titans led 16-0 and Brisbane appeared destined for a long night – particularly after losing Hunt shortly after.
The way Prince was organising his side and conducting the play had shades of Andrew Johns, while the Broncos appeared to lack the energy they had shown in recent weeks.
But the visitors finally got on the scoreboard in the 31st minute when Petersen failed to bat a Peter Wallace kick dead and Kemp scored.
Broncos hooker Ennis, who upset Prince with a late shoulder charge after he kicked in the 37th minute, then narrowed the gap to 16-8 at half-time with a penalty goal after a high shot by Friend.
GOLD COAST 26 (M Petersen 3 A Harrison A Laffranchi tries S Prince 3 goals) bt BRISBANE 24 (D Boyd 2 D Kemp P Wallace tries M Ennis 4 goals) at Skilled Park. Referee: T Archer. Crowd: 27,176 (ground record)