As part of a daily series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2023, the Gold Coast are looking to bounce back following a big slide last season.
As one of several coaches entering the season under pressure to retain their job, Justin Holbrook needs to get the Titans off to a strong start to quash the speculation.
Gold Coast went from making the playoffs in 2021 to a lacklustre 13th-placed finish with a 6-18 record last season with Holbrook never able to find a spine combination with enough playmaking punch.
Young halfback Toby Sexton was jettisoned from the team late in the season while AJ Brimson and Jayden Campbell were constantly in and out of the line-up due to injuries.
Marquee player David Fifita again didn’t live up to his price tag and the Titans are in no rush to re-sign him as he enters the final year of his lucrative deal.
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He will have to take a massive pay cut whether he stays on the Gold Coast or heads elsewhere unless he can rediscover his game-breaking form in 2023.
The Titans identified experience in their spine as a weak point, just like every other team in the competition did when they played them, so they have recruited Manly veteran playmaker Kieran Foran and premiership-winning Roosters hooker Sam Verrills.
They Knights rake Chris Randall as a back-up option at dummy-half while Bulldogs duo Joe Stimson and Aaron Schoupp are the kind of solid, reliable first-graders that the Titans have been lacking.
Gold Coast identified Schoupp as someone who could give them strikepower at centre and the Bulldogs granted him an early release from his contract to sign a longer deal with the Titans.
The Titans offloaded several players who were chewing up salary cap space but not delivering value. Young winger Greg Marzhew is the only player no longer on the roster who was playing consistently well but he was allowed to sign with Newcastle as part of the deal to bring Randall north of the border.
Veteran forwards Jarrod Wallace and Herman Ese’ese have joined the Dolphins, as has Jamayne Isaako after he was loaned out to the Titans last season from Brisbane. Veteran trio Will Smith, Kevin Proctor and Corey Thompson, prop Sam Lisone (Leeds) and centre Esan Marsters (Huddersfield) have also vacated the Coast. Proctor and Thompson have retired while Smith is trying his luck at the Wests Tigers on a train and trial deal.
Key spots to unlock
Holbrook is likely to start Foran in the halves alongside Brimson at five-eighth so Sexton will have to work his way back into the NRL side.
Their pack is very strong on paper but unfortunately their defence was paper thin too often last season.
Patrick Herbert is likely to get first crack at one of the centre spots alongside Schoupp with Brian Kelly suspended at the start of the season due to a spear tackle ban carrying over.
Round 1 predicted team
1 Jayden Campbell
2 Jojo Fifita
3 Aaron Schoupp
4 Patrick Herbert
5 Phillip Sami
6 AJ Brimson
7 Kieran Foran
8 Moeaki Fotuaika
9 Sam Verrills
10 Isaac Liu
11 David Fifita
12 Beau Fermor
13 Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
14 Erin Clark
15 Sam McIntyre
16 Jaimin Jollife
17 Joe Stimson
Other squad members: Brian Kelly (suspended until Round 4), Alofi’ana Khan-Pereira, Chris Randall, Jacob Alick, Joseph Vuna, Klese Haas, Paul Turner, Tanah Boyd, Thomas Weaver, Toby Sexton.
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