Titans enter new NRL age under Holbrook

Gold Coast's NRL hopes in 2020 will rest heavily on the form of halfback Ash Taylor.
Gold Coast's NRL hopes in 2020 will rest heavily on the form of halfback Ash Taylor.

When Justin Holbrook answered Mal Meninga's phone call about the vacant coaching position at Gold Coast, the ex-NRL halfback wasn't sure taking the job was a smart move.

The Titans had just sacked Garth Brennan and were drifting toward their second wooden spoon.

Holbrook on the other hand was hot property, nearing the end of a second season in England as head coach of St Helens which would eventually end in a Super League title.

After a barrage of questions to Titans head of performance and culture chief Meninga, however, Holbrook admits he was convinced.

"Just watching the performances I had a lot of question for Mal and once he answered all those it changed from being curious to being excited," Holbrook told AAP.

"Everyone's in place now, the pathway's ready to go and I guess the last piece of the club now is obviously getting the first team performing well."

Holbrook's arrival has brought a wave of optimism to a club that was on its knees in 2019.

Talismanic captain Ryan James injured his knee in round six, Brennan became the third Titans coach sacked since 2014 by mid-season and million-dollar halfback Ash Taylor spent most of the year dealing with personal issues rather than playing first grade.

Executive chairman Dennis Watt said the appointment of Holbrook was the club's "last stand" after years of underwhelming displays, while some including NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler advocated for the NRL to abandon the Gold Coast.

Holbrook is facing 2020 with largely the same squad as last year.

Veteran fullback Michael Gordon has retired, James is once again out for the season after another serious knee injury and representative backrower Jai Arrow has confirmed he's leaving the club at season's end to take up a lucrative offer with South Sydney.

In terms of incoming talent, Beau Fermor has arrived from Newcastle but is recovering from an ACL injury while ex-Brisbane youngster Tanah Boyd looks a prospect, although an untested one at senior level.

The Titans have Taylor back on board and looking hungry to succeed while young fullback AJ Brimson has also caught the eye.

Holbrook doesn't buy into the idea that the Gold Coast is a graveyard for professional sports teams but does admit there has to be a change of focus to succeed.

"If we can get a rugby league team firing then there's no better place to live but we've got to get it in that order," he said.

"Where we've probably fallen short as a club is we've got it around the other way and haven't performed."

Holbrook's arrival may not instantly transform the Titans into premiership contenders but restoring pride in the club's brand will be the primary objective for his debut NRL head-coaching campaign.

"It's a chance for them to get a fresh start," Holbrook said.


Finishes over the past three seasons: 2019 - 16th, 2018 - 14th, 2017 - 15th

Coach: Justin Holbrook

Captain: Ryan James

Key gains: Beau Fermor (Knights), Tanah Boyd (Broncos)

Key losses: Michael Gordon (retired), Jesse Arthars (Broncos), Ryley Jacks (Storm), Brenko Lee (Storm), Leilani Latu (Warrington)

Best team: 1. AJ Brimson, 2. Anthony Don, 3. Brian Kelly, 4. Kallum Watkins, 5. Phillip Sami, 6.Tyrone Roberts, 7. Ash Taylor, 8. Moeaki Fotuaika, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Kevin Proctor, 12. Bryce Cartwright, 13. Jai Arrow. Bench: 14. Tyrone Peachey, 15. Jarrod Wallace, 16. Keegan Hipgrave, 17. Sam Stone.

Predicted finish: 15th

Australian Associated Press