The Gold Coast Titans are refusing to give up on the 2008 NRL semi finals, beating the Roosters tonight 32-28; with coach John Cartwright believing the side still has the makings on a championship squad despite a mammoth injury toll. His troops proved it tonight, beating the pack leading Sydney Roosters with a bunch of kids, hurled together well with the likes of Mat Rogers, Preston Campbell and Michael Hodgson leading the way.
Cartwright tipped on their recent form after the match, suggesting while the Titans have lost a few games – the margin has been close and they have been within a whisker of beating the leading NRL teams even without their stars on deck. The Titans can all but secure a Top 8 spot with 3 more victories this year – as in previous years 28 points generally means Top 8.
The Gold Coast did it all tonight, apart from a lapse mid to late in the first half where the Roosters cut them to shreds, the Titans weathered some poor calls by struggling referee Ben Cummins to remain focused and eventually run over the top of the Roosters.
Gold Coast showcased some of their rookie talent, as young winger Jordan Rapana scored a double on debut in the Titans’ 32-28 NRL win.
Rapana, 18, bagged a first half double with two massive leaps in a stunning debut that drew comparison with fellow Titans rookie Jordan Atkins who scored four tries in round one this year.
The visitors trailed 28-16 after a try-fest opening half but then defied their horrific injury toll to score three unanswered second half tries and defeat the ladder leaders in a thriller.
The victory ends a horrendous three-game losing streak for the Titans and puts their finals chances back on track just when everyone was ready to write them off following the loss of captains Luke Bailey and Scott Prince for the rest of the season with injury.
Stand-in skipper Preston Campbell was outstanding for the Titans when shifted into halfback, while winger Ben Jeffery also bagged a double as the Gold Coast claimed a six-tries-to-five win in front of 10,762 fans.
Mat Rogers scored first after the break in the 46th minute, but his try was shrouded in controversy as the Roosters blew up about an apparent obstruction.
Campbell then ignited the Titans’ final flurry by setting up centre Josh Graham (57th minute) and kicking for Jeffery’s second (62nd) that gave the Gold Coast a lead they never relinquished.
Campbell then showed his courage with a match-saving tackle on Roosters five-eighth Braith Anasta in the 70th minute to prevent the home side drawing level, a tackle which ended his night due to concussion.
The Titans defence was brilliant in the final minutes with Brent Grose and Riley Brown both held up over the line.
While the Titans ended the game with courage, it was their flair that proved the difference, opening the game with an early blast, scoring two tries in the first six minutes to Jeffery (2nd minute) and Rapana (6th minute).
The Roosters fired back with three unanswered tries in an eight minute period to Amos Roberts (10th minute), Braith Anasta (15th) and Willie Mason (18th) to reclaim a 16-12 lead.
Rapana struck again with another high-flying try in the 26th minute to level scores 16-all before a Roosters double blow heading into halftime with Setaimata Sa (34th minute) and James Aubusson (37th) extending the home side’s advantage.
Man-of-the-match Campbell said he was knocked out making a tackle on Willie Mason prior to his game-saver on Anasta in the 70th minute.
“I remember when it happened. I went in to tackle big Willie and I think I hit big Willie’s big willy,” said Campbell.
Titans coach John Cartwright said it was typical of Campbell’s courage in that he just put his body on the line for the sake of the team.
“He smells when the danger is on,” said Cartwright.
“If he tackled like that everytime he would have had to retire years ago. He just puts his head on the line. He lines them up and leads with his head.”
Campbell praised his teammates and rated the win his finest for the Gold Coast, including the 1998 season with the Chargers.
The Titans were not only without Prince and Bailey, but also Queensland star Ashley Harrison, forward Mark Minichiello and centres Luke O’Dwyer and Brett Delaney.
“I definitely put it up there with being one of our best wins since being at the club,” he said.
“It’s the gutsiest win considering we’re coming off three losses and it’s the Roosters at home and we won away from home.”
Roosters coach Brad Fittler and captain Craig Fitzgibbon both accused their team of thinking victory would come easy, claiming they were made to pay for a poor attitude and preparation.
“We were bluffed and bought into the thought that we could do enough just to win,” said Fitzgibbon.
Fittler took responsibility for failing to get his side mentally ready for a tough grinding contest.
“We just thought we could turn it on when we wanted to,” he said.
“We have to prepared strong every week. We are not a team that at any moment can flick the switch when it is needed.”
GOLD COAST 32 (J Rapana 2 B Jeffery 2 M Rogers J Graham tries M Rogers 4 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 28 (A Roberts B Anasta W Mason S Sa M Aubusson tries C Fitzgibbon 4 goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: B Cummins. Crowd: 10,762.