NRL Round 1 predicted teams: Gold Coast Titans – Hasler must pick Jayden or AJ to turn tide around
As part of a series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2024, it’s time to see if Des Hasler can work his magic on the Gold Coast.
Analysing the Titans is a bit of a thankless task, given their propensity to put together a decent-looking squad and then promptly be rubbish anyway.
That could probably be extended to all Gold Coast sports teams all the time, but it is most acute with the NRL outfit, who have never really failed to have good players but have perpetually failed to have a good team.
Now, they have a real chance to rewrite that script.
Des Hasler arrives on the Coast with a remit to reshape the whole team, but he does so with what is actually a really settled roster, and one that has long threatened to kick on.
There’s plenty of talent there, especially in a pack that has multiple rep stars, and this is a side that has rarely struggled to put points on the board.
Where the coach has work to do is in getting the best configuration of a strong squad and then getting them to tackle properly. Defence, defence and more defence has to be the focus of the off-season.
They spunked their recruitment budget on extensions for Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita, and time will tell how smart a move that was.
Putting that much salary cap into a backrower might be the sort of thing that comes back to bite them on the behind.
Then again, this is a team with lots of young players and bags of potential to expand. AJ Brimson, now almost 100 games deep into his career, is still just 24 and Tino, Dave and Jayden Campbell are only 23.
Along with the veteran Kieran Foran, you’d say that they’re the four most important players and they have huge scope to settle into positions and then kick on.
It’s up to Des to make that happen – and, if his career is anything to go by, he’ll have some left-field solutions. If anyone can fix the Gold Coast, it might be Hasler.
The arrivals are Keenan Palasia, who takes the well-worn path down the M1 in search of more minutes – ironically, at a time in which he could have expected more at Brisbane given Tom Flegler’s move along the Queensland carousel to Redcliffe.
He’ll likely start on the bench on the Gold Coast, but has plenty of scope to move up the rotation – and certainly presents an upgrade on what was already a pretty strong pack.
Harley Smith-Shields is the only other newcomer, and gives a depth option in the backline.
The ex-Raider impressed as a junior but suffered a few bad injuries, and could turn out to be a decent pickup if he fulfills his earlier promise.
In the ‘as good as a new signing’ column are Beau Fermor and Sam Verrills. Both would be undisputed starters but never got going last year due to injury.
Fermor missed everything with an ACL a week before Round 1 while Verrills managed just 11 appearances towards the back end of the year.
The list of departures is short and relatively insignificant.
Kruise Leeming played the most of those leaving, but only on a short term basis and as a full-in for Verrills, so his return to the Super League should not be too missed.
Joe Vuna made a few appearances off the bench but not too many and Treymain Spry didn’t play at all.
Key spots to unlock?
The Titans are pretty settled and, with only two newcomers, Des is picking from essentially the same group as Justin Holbrook did last year.
The difference is that he has every fit (for now at least) and, with that, a few selection headaches that need to be sorted well ahead of time.
The obvious one is the spine, which is strong on paper but difficult to juggle when it comes to actually picking a team.
Jayden Campbell and AJ Brimson are best at fullback (as is youngster Keano Kini), but only one can play there.
Second-guessing Des Hasler is a fool’s errand, but there were reports that Brimson might be shifted to centre to give Campbell the chance to work his magic from the back, and that does have some value as an idea.
For one, the Titans’ centres have been absolutely dreadful defensively for a very long time, so anyone moving in would have a relatively low bar to clear on that side of the ball, while also allowing AJ to play in the freer role that is increasingly seen in top NRL sides.
For two, it would get Campbell on the field for 80 minutes and not force him to defend in the front line, where he would always be a liability due to his small size.
The other option would be to move Foran to the 7 jumper and one of those two to play 6, though that would shift Tanah Boyd out entirely.
He’s not always convinced, but it would be harsh to move him on this early, and if they were to do so, the most obvious choice would be to promote Tom Weaver, the gun junior halfback who debuted last year.
With Verrills back on deck, Chris Randall will likely move to the bench, and Fermor will certainly come into the second row, pushing someone else back.
It’s a strange situation for the Titans to be in, with multiple options in most positions, though it is obviously not ideal that nobody knows who the starting 1, 6, 7 or 9 is going to be.
Des gets a fairly benign start – only one of last year’s top eight in the first six weeks, and that’s Canberra) so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to bed in a new playmaking unit and, the Titans will hope, be able to pick and stick.
Round 1 predicted team
1 Jayden Campbell
2 Alofiana Khan-Pereira
3 Brian Kelly
4 AJ Brimson
5 Phillip Sami
6 Kieran Foran
7 Tanah Boyd
8 Moeaki Fotuaika
9 Sam Verrills
10 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11 David Fifita
12 Beau Fermor
13 Isaac Liu
14 Chris Randall
15 Erin Clark
16 Joe Stimson
17 Keenan Palasia
Other squad members: Keano Kini, Aaron Schoupp, Harley Smith-Shields, Jojo Fifita, Iszac Fa’asuamaleaui, Klese Haas, Jaimin Jolliffe, Jacob Alick, Josiah Pahulu, Ken Maumolo, Ryan Foran, Tom Weaver, Tony Francis
Development players: Arama Hau, Ben Liyou, Jaylan De Groot, Oskar Bryant, Seth Nikotemo, Ryder Williams