The Gold Coast Titans are placing an emphasis on solving their defensive issues during the pre-season, with Justin Holbrook hoping two new recruits can provoke a change of fortune.
The Titans finished in 13th place on the ladder, having pushed the Roosters all the way in the previous year’s finals series. Yet they couldn’t use this as a platform in which to build from due to a porous defence which conceded 660 points across the season.
“As a team, we were quite passive last year,” forward Jaimin Jolliffe admitted. “So, there’s a lot of line speed, controlling the ruck and controlling the tackle.
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“Winning the tackle and timing out of the ruck – there’s a lot that goes into a defence, so we’re working on all of it.
“The majority of our field sessions have been around our defence, so we’re taking it really seriously.”
Holbrook elected to address his team’s weakness around the middle of the park, after bringing in some experience in the halves with Kieran Foran’s signature.
Sam Verrills was brought in from the Roosters to amend their fragility in the ruck, before the Titans also jettisoned Greg Marzhew – who struggled on the edge with his defensive reads – in favour of another hooker in Chris Randall.
The Newcastle native had been on Holbrook’s radar ever since making his debut two years ago.
“[Hookers] are workhorses in defence and even in attack with knowing which side of the ruck to give the ball, so you’ve got to have smarts there and you’ve got to be a natural No. 9,” he said.
“As a club and as a team we want to work harder and with Chris making 71 tackles on debut, they’re the sort of players that we want to bring into our club.
“He was actually one of Newcastle’s hardest-working players and I spoke to a lot of people about him, and he was their best trainer and loves defence, which is a big part of our game we’ve got to improve next year.”
Verrills and Randall will be tasked with helping last season’s fourth worst defensive unit improve, with the duo focusing their games on repeated efforts without the ball.
In Verrills’ 15 appearances for Sydney last year, he made 558 tackles with a 95.7% efficiency, while Randall made 719 tackles during his 17 appearances at a tick above a 95% efficiency.
“Defensively, having Sam Verrills there is awesome and also Randy as well,” Jolliffe said.
“We’ve got some good hookers there who are strong defensively and I think they’ll really help us out in that area.”
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New coach Brett White, who has moved across from the Melbourne Storm system, will also help in that regard when he adds his fingerprints to the defensive structures of the team.
“Having Whitey on board has been really good for us. He’s got a great understanding in that area,” Jolliffe continued.
“[Improving defensively is] the biggest goal this year- that is the biggest area of improvement.”
The potential to have Verrills and Randall working in tandem is also straight out of the Storm playbook, with Craig Bellamy utilising it effectively in 2022.
“The top clubs are always strong in that area,” Holbrook highlighted. “Just think of Melbourne, they had Brandon Smith and Harry Grant juggling that spot, so we needed to make sure that it was a real priority for us.”
Meanwhile, Jolliffe believes all the hard work done during the pre-season on fixing up their defensive frailties will also benefit their ability in attack as they aim to challenge for a place inside the top-eight once again.
“I think, personally, we have some of the best attacking players in the world,” he said.
“JC [Jayden Campbell], Brimo [AJ Brimson] and now we’ve got Foran to add to them – so if we can put ourselves in better field position through our defence then we’ll have a lot better opportunities with the ball and start getting better results.”