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The Gold Coast Titans have shrugged off a horrendous injury toll to complete a remarkable victory over the Parramatta Eels, who came hurtling back to earth in a hurry after a 26-14 defeat at Robina on Friday night.
Heavily favoured to not just win but deliver a proper beating to the undermanned Titans, the Eels blew a 12-0 lead to fade away amid a series of poor completions, errors and a general lack of direction without the guidance of injured half Corey Norman.
But they could hardly complain about missing players, with the Titans battling to put together a squad during the week, even trying to get new signing Dale Copley to play while he was still learning the names of his new teammates following his move from the Roosters.
And Jarryd Hayne, their star signing, wouldn’t get the chance to take on his old club as he cooled his heels recovering from an ankle injury.
They would lose Will Zillman early and a host of players took hard shots to the head and were sent for concussion tests. All would return to the field but not before some makeshift positional shuffling from Neil Henry kept them in the contest.
With young halves Ash Taylor and Kane Elgey directing traffic, the Titans refused to lie down and had too much energy for the Eels, who didn’t resemble the side that looked so crisp over the opening rounds.
“The first 15 minutes, we played like we had for the first two weeks. Then some silly errors started to creep in and on the back of those some penalties. For the next 60 minutes we didn’t build any pressure,” said Eels coach Brad Arthur, who said they couldn’t blame the absence of Norman for the unexpected loss.
“Boys dropping the ball, getting their timing wrong on their run, that has nothing to do with Corey. They’re fundamental errors. NRL players have to get them right.”
It didn’t initially look like the absence of chief creator Norman would hold back the Eels, who galloped to a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes thanks to halves Clint Gutherson and Jeff Robson, who both loomed in support to scamper over the line.
The Titans signed Copley on Wednesday but not in time to play, with the NRL ruling he couldn’t take the field after missing out on the original 21-man squad. Given the way things were transpiring, they could have done with his services.
Zillman went off with a calf injury after 17 minutes and wouldn’t be seen again for the evening. Tyrone Roberts, a halfback filling in at hooker, would end up at fullback, while a head knock to Konrad Hurrell saw the centre pairing consist of back-rowers Chris McQueen and Kevin Proctor.
It was crude but effective. Finally with some ball, the Titans found themselves on a roll and McQueen harnessed the momentum to barge over and get his side on the board after 27 minutes.
Even with men down – Elgey was another to take a heavy shot and was lucky to stay on the field – the Titans were rallying. Taylor fired off a brilliant long ball to set up Tyler Cornish on the stroke of half-time and it was 12-12 at the break.
Hurrell would return for the second half as the Eels edged ahead through Gutherson’s boot. But Elgey would soon shake off any signs of his heavy contact when he grubbered, kicked again off the lucky rebound and pounced to give the Titans an 18-14 advantage.
A Taylor penalty from right in front extended the margin to a converted try but the Gold Coast were still dropping like flies. Ryan Simpkins was the next to go off for a concussion test, and returned after being given the green light by medical staff.
Meanwhile, the Eels were their own worst enemy. Gone was the slick attack that flayed the Dragons, replaced by rushed passes, unforced errors and impatient attack that tried too much, too soon. And their pack was ineffective.
A try to Roberts with six minutes on the clock would complete a brave win for the home side and put an end to a forgettable road trip for the Eels, who must now regroup to face defending premiers Cronulla next week.
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