Oh no Tino! Titans talisman hobbles off as Des gets booed on Belmore return amid Dogs disaster


Tino Fa’asuamaleaui was carried off on a horror afternoon for the Gold Coast Titans, who went down 32-0 to a resurgent Canterbury Bulldogs at Belmore Sports Ground.

The talismanic Titans captain stayed down underneath a tackle in obvious discomfort midway through the second half and played no further part in the game, turning what was already a chastening experience into an outright disaster.

Vision suggested that it was a knee injury, though scans will be required.

“It’s definitely his knee,” said Des Hasler.

“At the moment, that can range anywhere from MCL to ACL. It didn’t look good walking off, did it?

“The first half I thought it was admirable what we did from a defensive point of view. We held them to 12-0 with one off a charge down, so we went into half time with a bit of confidence.

“Our attack and end of set in particular put so much pressure on our defence. We came out of the corners the whole day.”

The score was 32-0 at that point after an early second half blitz had seen the Bulldogs surge into a commanding lead. They didn’t add to it, but didn’t need to. Belmore was already rocking and, when Hasler appeared on the big screen, he was booed triumphantly.

Viliame Kikau had been the star, scoring one and setting up another while proving a constant menace in defence. When Tanah Boyd goes to sleep tonight, he will see Kikau looming in his dreams, so terrorised was he in kick pressure.

Cameron Ciraldo’s men clearly came to play, dominating early on through field position and possession before cashing in late in points.

After a wobble early on – Kieran Foran and AJ Brimson conspired to bomb the easiest try of the year – Canterbury took over, with Reed Mahoney and Matt Burton doing a kick and control job that allowed the forwards to take over.

It was textbook stuff, and far too good for the Titans.

“We keep believing what we’re doing and trusting our process,” said the coach.

“It’s easy after a couple of losses to change things around and stop believing, but I feel like everyone in the building stuck to it.

“Today we got the result but I’ve been feeling that at training that we’ve had a lot of winning behaviours, so it was just a matter of time until it came out.”

Kikau fires the Dogs forward

With away trips to Parramatta and Cronulla first up, it perhaps isn’t surprising that the Dogs began with two losses, but there had been signs of defensive improvement that augured well for Ciraldo, especially as that was their worst area in 2023.

The Dogs might be a little bit off a completed team still, but the signs of improvement that were there to see in their first two defeats were again evident, and with weaker opposition, Canterbury were able to play to some of their strengths as well.

One might think of it as raising the floor on this team. Rugby league is a weak link sport, and in previous Dogs sides, it wasn’t that hard to find those pain points and attack them.

This year, they’re still looking for cohesion with plenty of new players, but when you don’t leak tries, you bring in the opportunity to jag ones of your own and pick up wins, especially against other cellar dwellers.

This is getting ugly for the Titans!

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The tries for Canterbury weren’t majestic, with a charge down and a dummy half pushover high on the list, but the effort areas that created them will be of great encouragement to Ciraldo.

Nobody exemplified it better than Kikau. He stripped his game back to hard running and effort areas, largely leaving the flashier stuff until the game was won, and was heavily rewarded.

His chargedown try was a perfect example, but Reed Mahoney’s close range effort came from a Tanah Boyd mistake, which was in turn caused by inside pressure from the Fijian backrower. It wasn’t even the first time he’d done it to Boyd, either.

With guys like Kikau, Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton, you’ll get points from magic moments, so it’s a case of keeping the score tight enough for that to win you a game. Today, that worked a treat.

Des has a huge job on his hands

The Titans have been defensively suspect for years, and changing that is top of Des Hasler’s priorities.

Brian Kelly has been consistently at the bottom of the NRL for defensive metrics among centres: he didn’t make the top 40 for tackle efficiency and averaged a try cause per game in 2023.

Today, he added another two to that list. The first was a class bad read, watching Kieran Foran go up on his inside but failing to follow him, the second a straight up one-on-one miss that allowed Jacob Kiraz to go right past him. At this level, it’s not good enough.

He wasn’t the only one to struggle.

Kiraz extends the Bulldogs lead! ????

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— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 23, 2024

Keano Kini, the fullback, is exciting in possession but was a liability underneath the high ball and continually out of position for long kicks, with Mahoney able to find the floor from dummy half on several occasions.

Jayden Campbell is back in Q Cup this weekend and you’d have to expect will be rushed back into the first grade squad as soon as possible.

Boyd, as mentioned, was terrorised in his defensive kicking, allowing the Dogs to start almost every set on the front foot.

One could make the argument that the best Titans halves option of recent years was on show at Belmore today – because Toby Sexton played reserve grade for the Dogs before the NRL.

The Titans have struggled to score points this year, with just four so far, but that remains the secondary concern, because first the Dragons and now the Bulldogs have made them look very ordinary indeed in defence.

If that’s what happens with sides who most think will finish towards the bottom, what happens when they face the big boys?

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