ANALYSIS: Foran rolls back years as Titans complete Queensland sweep in Magic Round thriller

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The Titans got that sinking feeling again. Having raced into another first half lead at Suncorp, 16-4 at the break, they nearly chucked it – but this time the comeback wasn’t to be.

The Gold Coast won 26-24 in the end, completing a Queensland sweep at Magic Round with all four teams from north of the Tweed picking up victories.

The Titans remain impenetrable, brilliant one half and awful the next. Even from one side of the field to the other, they are inconsistent.

The left edge attack is right up there with the best in the competition, with David Fifta a cert for a Maroons recall, Alofiana Khan-Pereira continuing his breakout at NRL level and Kieran Foran enjoying a late career renaissance, scoring twice. Even Brian Kelly got a try.

The other side still can’t tackle, but having one functioning edge is a clear improvement for Justin Holbrook. Moreover, the resilience shows two weeks in a row is a sea change from Gold Coast teams of the recent past.

“We had a good win last week but it was about turning up here and doing it again,” said the Titans coach.

“We had a really good first half and then obviously Parra came very hard at us at the end, which you’d expect, and the boys handled it well. Thrilled with the win.”

Parra will be left shaking their heads, and not without reason.

This was their third high-scoring shootout of the year, and Parramatta have lost all three. At the siren sounded, they were caught on the last and didn’t get their field goal attempt away. It was that kind of night.

They lost Mitch Moses to a head knock in the second half – later confrimed as a category one, meaning he will miss next week’s trip to Canberra – and then lost the game on goalkicking, the third time that has happened in 2023 so far. 

They will point to an early sin bin for Clint Gutherson, in which they conceded two soft tries, and a length-of-the-field interception. They did plenty enough to win, but didn’t.

I just asked the team, ‘How did we lose that?’, because I felt like we did more than enough to win it,” said Brad Arthur.

“I thought our effort was really good, we did a lot of good things, more good things than bad. But a couple of big moments and a couple of system errors in defence hurt us.”

They came for points

The punters who hung around for the final game of Magic Round did so in the expectation of seeing a lot of points. The atmosphere was akin to 3pm at a Test match, that light drunken hum, and they got what they came for.

Parra’s left edge fired, with Maika Sivo scoring three inside an hour, though there might be some assistance from the notoriously tackle-shy Titans left side. The tries have to be scored, but resistance wasn’t exactly strong.

The key to the Eels’ success was Dylan Brown. He’s been far from his best in 2023, but put in his best showing of the year last time out against Newcastle and backed it up with another superb performance. 

The Kiwi did all the good stuff in terms of try and line break assists, but the major difference in his play has been ownership.

It’s easy to do the luxury stuff when the other big characters in the team want to run the team, but to be at his most influential, Brown needs to demand the ball and get it. For the second week in a row, he did that.

Gutherson, their standout all year, was everywhere and the ten minutes when he wasn’t was when the Titans racked up the points. 

Much as Junior Paulo and Mitch Moses are the orchestrators, Gutho is the leader and he does it by example. Nobody matches his enthusiasm and will to compete.

Remember, the chat was that Parra wanted to shift Gutho to the centres to find a home for Jayden Campbell, in search of a mythical x-factor at the back. 

The pair went head-to-head tonight and it was clear for all to see who the more complete player is. Jayden has time on his side, but in the here and now, it’s Gutho all day.

Foran rolls back the years

There was a time when many thought Kieran Foran was done. Prior to rejoining Manly in 2021, he had passed 15 games in just one of the previous five seasons. 

He was a crock, a sicknote, and no matter how good he had once been, Foran’s was a career that would always be remembered as one cruelled by injury. 

Ben Hunt, who debuted in the same weekend way back in 2009, is nearly an entire season’s worth of appearances in front of him and will hit 300 next week.

For a guy who was so written off to come back as he has is nothing short of miraculous. Foran has earned a late career payday at the Titans, and his abilities as a veteran playmaker are perfectly suited to this team.

The two tries tonight were superb, the sort that Foran hasn’t scored in years. Indeed, he’s managed only six in his 56 games since 2021, a severe drop-off from a bloke who got six in his first nine games as a teenager and scored pretty regularly before that injury period.

Tries are nice for a half, but they don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. What matters is the tries that the blokes around you score, and on that front, Foran is doing all the right things too. 

It’s no coincidence that the best formFifita has found in his time on the Gold Coast is happening while aiming runs off Foran. Khan-Pereira mustn’t be able to believe this luck that he gets to play outside those two.

“You have to back a bloke who has that much character and desire,” said Holbrook. “He’s a great example for the rest of our group.

“I’m glad he got rewarded with such a good performance. He did some things early in that game and hung on for dear life in the end.

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