New-look Gold Coast Titans spine the key to success for Justin Holbrook

Justin Holbrook is hoping that a change of scenery for some experienced recruits will be enough to kick-start a rebuild on the Gold Coast, as they attempt to address last season’s painfully obvious shortcomings. 

The baby hasn’t quite been thrown out with bathwater down on the glitter strip after the Titans endured a miserable campaign last year, but it hasn’t been far off.  

New-look Titans spine the key to success for Justin Holbrook

The Titans’ season began to slip away from them early last year, winning just three of their opening 10 matches.

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But far worse was to follow with a miserable 10-game losing streak midway through the campaign piling plenty of pressure upon Holbrook’s shoulders and leaving many to question whether he was the right man to lead the club forward.

In his post-match press conferences, he began to sound like a broken record, citing how the club’s lack of experience in key positions was killing them.

After a particularly galling 36-24 defeat to Canberra, Holbrook conceded that the season was basically a write-off while sending out an SOS message to Kieran Foran.

“He can’t get here quick enough,” he said of the veteran five-eighth who they had signed from Manly for 2023.

“It’s the same issues, inexperience in key positions is what’s costing us.

“Inexperience is what we’ve got. We can’t change that for now, but we can change it for next year. We’ve just got to get on with it.

“The inexperienced spine makes it so difficult, particularly on our forwards. It’s just the position we’re in.”

However, they are entering into the new season with renewed optimism as they are no longer in that position.

The Titans have performed spinal surgery on the side with the recruitment of hooker Sam Verrills and Foran added into key positions.

“I was happy with the combinations out of that trial, so we don’t have to change a lot,” Holbrook said in reference to Gold Coast’s 40-16 win over the Dolphins in their final pre-season match.

“We were happy with how we went, but you don’t get any points for it… the trials are only trials so you can’t take a lot out of them.

“It was important for us having had a lot of key changes, but for other teams it’s not that important.”

Foran in particular stood out on the left-edge, looping a cut-out ball over to Alofiana Khan-Pereira who was on the end of a slick backline sweep.

That early foray into Dolphins’ territory proved to be a sign of things to come with the Kiwi international terrorising the opposition defence.

His link play with Tanah Boyd – who has dislodged Toby Sexton as the first-choice halfback – was also promising.

“That’s the beauty for us- trying to build those combinations in a short amount of time,” Holbrook said.

Can AJ Brimson’s return to fullback help ignite his side’s attack?

The other major alteration Holbrook has made to attempt to address his side’s slide is permanently reinstating AJ Brimson at fullback after experimenting with livewire Jayden Campbell there in 2022.

Throughout his near 100-game NRL career, Brimson has switched between playing at the back and fulfilling a role in the halves. But finally, it appears that his days of pulling on the No.6 jersey for the Titans are over.

“I had told the coach at the start of pre-season that I was happy to play six or one, but that I prefer one,” Brimson told AAP last week.

“I am feeling really comfortable back there at fullback. I like the freedom of it. I just like playing instinctive footy.

“When I am in the halves, I have to tell other people what to do. But I am at my best when I am just reacting and pushing up around the footy.”

MORE: NRL 2023 – The Sporting News’ 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season

Campbell has been an unfortunate casualty of this shuffle with the young gun expected to take the No.14 jersey instead.

“He’s been excellent right from the moment when I spoke to him about it,” Holbrook revealed.

“He’s accepted that he still has a lot to learn and is more than happy being around the group.

“He’s still a big part of our team- that’s what I always have to highlight.

“He may not start this week but his natural footy ability and his real x-factor that we’ve spoken about a number of times…he’s a big part of our team.

“He could be anywhere- that’s why he’s filled in at training everywhere. You just never know during a game where they’re needed. So, it’s been important that he spends time everywhere.”

Jayden Campbell and Erin Clark will be vital cogs despite losing their starting roles

During his pre-match presser ahead of the Titans’ clash with the Wests Tigers, Holbrook constantly spruiked the value of a side’s bench in 2023. It may make or break a team’s chances this season.  

“We just spoke about the importance of the depth of your squad but it’s really crucial now with the depth of your 17,” he said.

“The four guys coming off the bench play as big of a part as any in the starting 13, so we’ve got to make sure we get that right.”

Erin Clark will join Campbell on the pine with the coach confirming he preferred the Kiwi international injecting himself into the action after the initial softening up period was over.

“He brings so much off the bench,” he said.

“He’s got so much energy and effort about him. I think it suits him when the sting out of the game has happened and he can come on.

“I think he actually plays better, so as I just mentioned, your 17 is crucial now. It’s not just the starting 13.”

The blueprint is there with the likes of Parramatta and Cronulla showcasing the impact a lock can have when coming off the bench to help lift the intensity of the contest.

Cameron McInnes constantly found his front and generated quick play-the-balls for the Sharks’ attack to profit off, while Ryan Matterson brought a similar thing to the Eels coupled with his ability to find a late offload.

“It’s when you use the bench, where they come on and how long they play,” Holbrook said.

“It’s a big part of our game now with how fast it has gotten. You’ve got to be really good in that area and I think we’re doing a good job in putting that together.”

Titans predicted team for round one vs Wests Tigers

1. AJ Brimson
2. Alofiana Khan-Pereira
3. Aaron Schoupp
4. Phillip Sami
5. Sosefo Fifita
6. Kieran Foran
7. Tanah Boyd
8. Jaimin Jolliffe
9. Sam Verrills
10. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11. David Fifita
12. Beau Fermor
13. Isaac Liu

14. Jayden Campbell
15. Erin Clark
16. Moeaki Fotuaika
17. Joe Stimson

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