Sport Titans' perfect response to $3.5m superstar

14:21  23 september  2020
14:21  23 september  2020 Source:   wwos.nine.com.au

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Having spent $3.5 million to lure David Fifita to the Gold Coast, the Titans are ensuring the best possible return on their investment before the young superstar plays a game for the club.

If the Titans continued on in the same vein as last season, when they won the wooden spoon, Fifita would have joined his new team under a mountain of pressure.

The Queensland State of Origin back-rower would have been publicly cast as the saviour, tasked with lifting the NRL's long-time battlers from the mire of failure. That perceived role would have significantly heightened the odds of a disappointing outcome for the blockbuster signing.

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Thanks to new coach Justin Holbrook and his 2019 side, that won't be the case.

a close up of a baseball field: Broncos star David Fifita has signed with the Titans for $3.5 million. © Getty Broncos star David Fifita has signed with the Titans for $3.5 million.

Fifita, on more than $1 million per season over the next three years, will now be leaving the Brisbane Broncos for one of the NRL's most promising sides outside the top eight. He will be expected to make a major impact, yes, but not to carry a hapless side.

The Titans have gone 5-4 since Fifita signed in July. They are running ninth and have not given him cause to doubt, let alone regret, his decision to leave last-placed Brisbane. They have offered-up infinitely more this season than a pathetic Broncos side, in which Fifita has had limited game time due to injury.

Hopes are high that next season will bring Gold Coast's first finals appearance since 2016. Queensland icons Wally Lewis and Darren Lockyer have both tipped a finals berth and both are confident that Fifita will be well-handled by Holbrook and Titans head of performance and culture Mal Meninga, a rugby league Immortal.

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Fifita, of course, is still just 20. He's a sensational player but remains a work in progress. So to his fellow recruit, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, also only 20.

"Going by how the Titans handled the external stuff this year, and they're obviously a lot different to what the Broncos go through, but I think Justin Holbrook handles that very well," Lockyer told Wide World of Sports, in a Titans season review.

"And I think someone like Mal being there for someone like David to talk to, or Mal give him advice, [is positive].

"I think Justin is a realist and that'll come through with the way Tino and Fifita handle themselves."

Lewis said that Holbrook, who had his contract extended until the end of 2024 thanks to an excellent first season as an NRL head coach, would also serve as a mentor to his young superstar recruits; taking a leaf from the greatest coach of all.

"I've got enormous respect for this guy as a coach," Lewis told Wide World of Sports.

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"He'll want to go out there and have a fairly similar plan that Wayne Bennett used to have. He used to turn them into better people as well as better footballers. He'll have that genuinely in mind on the Gold Coast next year.

"He (Fifita) has got plenty on board. He's going to a new team and sometimes it can be a little bit difficult. They'll have a different game plan but certainly working under the coaching team on the Gold Coast, I think he's going to be quite positive about that."

Fa'asuamaleaui will reportedly earn $2 million over three seasons at the Titans. The Melbourne Storm powerhouse is another major investment who is now under slightly less pressure to be an immediate hit.

"I think he's still learning a little bit about the game," Lewis said.

"He's a big, powerful thing, he can run at the right time and right place, seems to be carting the ball well. But we shouldn't have our expectations too high, too soon. I'm sure that he would admit he's still learning."

Storm forward Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is joining the Titans. © Getty Storm forward Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is joining the Titans.

On top of recruiting well in the forwards, plus the promise shown by Moeaki Fotuaika and Beau Fermor, the Titans have three-quarters of a strong spine locked in. Fullback AJ Brimson rose in estimations, halfback Jamal Fogarty emerged from nowhere as a legitimate NRL No.7 and $1 million man Ash Taylor was resurrected as a five-eighth during this campaign.

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Hooker remains a weak spot, though Tanah Boyd has offered lively contributions. Peter Sterling this week suggested that Gold Coast should go hard for Melbourne's Brandon Smith, the New Zealand Test hooker, if he was squeezed out of the Storm by a career extension from Cameron Smith and the emergence of Harry Grant.

"Brimson's a player; he came back very well, he's their one," Lockyer said.

"I think Fogarty has complemented Ash Taylor really well in the halves. Ash Taylor's strength has always been [to] play what's in front of him and Fogarty's been the little general.

"I guess the hooker is still the question mark. In terms of hookers in the market, a fair bit of that depends on what the greatest hooker in the game is going to do, Cameron Smith.

"Stability in the spine, I think, is key to being consistently good."

Lockyer said a Gold Coast pitch to Smith would be simple: "We're a club that's enjoying our footy and we're a club that's improving with every game and there's some better things to come."

a man holding a football ball: New Zealand Test hooker Brandon Smith in action for the Melbourne Storm. © Getty New Zealand Test hooker Brandon Smith in action for the Melbourne Storm.

Lewis said that Brandon Smith, a ferocious ball-runner and defender, was the kind of hard-edged player who would complement what the Titans had built thus far. Seeing Smith in a regular starting role would be an exciting prospect, after all the time he's spent stuck on the bench in Melbourne behind his future Immortal namesake.

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"He's a competitor, Brandon Smith," Lewis said.

"He's very physical, he's a little bit more creative than most people give him credit for. He's a good communicator on the field.

"Sometimes playing at a different club can make you play a completely different game as well, so perhaps if he moves he mightn't be playing that same one, but certainly everything that we've seen him display so far for Melbourne Storm has been very positive."

a man wearing a hat: Gold Coast Titans coach Justin Holbrook. © Getty Gold Coast Titans coach Justin Holbrook.

Lockyer lauded Holbrook for his work in just one season at the helm, after a rough start in which he lost his first three games and five of his opening six matches. The rookie NRL head coach managed to beat the Broncos in both their derbies and they're sitting four points adrift of a finals spot with one game remaining.

He has built a platform, winning eight games thus far; double Gold Coast's wins tally last season when they took out the dreaded spoon.

"At the start of the year, it looked a bit shaky but as Holbrook got his feet under the desk there and started to really work his magic with his players ... for me, other than the first part of the season, they've been very consistent," Lockyer said.

"When they've lost games, they haven't lost them by big scores and they've been winning some close ones as well.

"What I liked is that the team just kept improving. If you're a member or a fan and you're seeing your team [improve], you might miss the finals but your team was getting better as the year went on. I think you'd be pretty happy and optimistic about what next year looks like.

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"There was no real standout players and I think that's a great reflection of the coach creating a team. That's what I liked a lot about them, was that they're playing as a team. In the past, they'd be getting beaten on the scoreboard and they'd just sort of put the [surrender] flag up and they'd get the big scores put on them. Towards the back end of the year, they were getting beaten by some good opposition teams but it wasn't by a big margin; and then they started winning some of those games.

"Top eight's definitely realistic. I think you just want to be improving on what you did last year and now that he's had 12 months in the saddle there, I think he'll get a much better start next year."

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