The North Queensland Cowboys beat a dismal Titans side 30-4 as the experiment to fill a center injury hole with David Fifita backfired in spectacular fashion.
Cooper Cronk criticized David Fifita’s move to center to cover the loss of Phillip Sami and it didn’t take long for the Cowboys to exploit him on defense, but he fought back to try to make it 6-4.
However, the Cowboys extended their lead with a try from Murray Taulagi from Fifita’s side of the field to make it 12-4.
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Fifita’s tough night in the office in defense continued when Scott Drinkwater burned him with a scrum to score nearly intact.
Jeremiah Nanai came back from a stint in the Sin Bin in the second half to jump high and score to put the game beyond doubt.
Helium Luki put the icing on the cake with a superb solo try but through a shaky Titans defense to seal a big win for the Cowboys.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
FIFITA SWITCH EXPLODES IN THE FACES OF THE TITANS
An injury to Phillip Sami saw Justin Holbrook move David Fifita to crosses and the change in position was an absolute disaster.
Cooper Cronk warned of pre-game movement and ultimately proved correct when the Cowboys exploited Fifita on defense.
“I don’t like it,” Cronk said before the game.
“I would put Fifita back in last place. You just have to put it in its preferred position.
“He won’t touch the ball as much.
“They’ll be just one out from the backfield and defensively he could be found out with his decision making.
“I would move Proctor to the bench and Fermor to crosses.
“And he’s going to play right-center and that’s their worst defensive side,” Cronk said.
“Holmes and Dearden, they go left, which means Fifita is going to be under pressure defensively with Dearden and his team coming towards him.”
Benji Marshall lamented the decision to move Fifita as he began to find consistency and form in the back row.
“I think it just blurs his role on the team,” Marshall said.
“He was starting to find some form in the back row and doing all the little things that everyone asked, especially the coach around the little back row effort zones.
“Then he was still achieving those moments of individual brilliance. If he could have put down good lines and worked on his combinations with the halves all together, he would have flown.
“Now he has to reset by playing in a different position and looking for the ball as well.”
Corey Parker noted that Cronk’s prophecy came true after the night’s first tryout with Tom Dearden.
Valentine Holmes produced a home run to put winger Murray Taulagi on the sidelines before heading inside for Dearden to score under the posts.
“David Fifita is a huge talent, we know what kind of player he is, but when you have traffic and numbers coming at full speed it’s very difficult to deal with,” Parker said.
“Cronk said before the game that he didn’t like the idea and that’s a very good indication of why.
“Centers are such a specific area to defend in. On their first real opportunity, the Cowboys pull the trigger and they come up with the first down.”
Parker was damning about the failed experience at halftime.
“Many have spoken about Fifita moving through the middle and he provided an assist but only 50 yards running at half time.
“We know how devastating he can be on the ball, but his problems were defensively tonight against Valentine Holmes on the left side for the Cowboys.”
Brent Tate played center at all levels of the game and noted the nuances of the defensive position that make it so difficult to pull off a stopgap solution.
“It’s obviously a big ask for David Fifita,” Tate said.
“Obviously he’ll be fine in attack, but defensively it’s your movement and positioning where you need to be when you play in the middle that he’s going to find very difficult.
“Not only that he comes up against a player in a rich vein of form in Valentine Holmes. He has been exceptional and probably the center of form of the competition for the past six weeks.
“It’s a big ask and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see Tom Dearden and Holmes come down on Fifita’s side of the pitch.”
Marshall agreed that Justin Holbrook threw Fifita a huge curveball with the last-minute change.
“To be fair, he’s playing out of position,” Marshall said.
“It’s not his fault. He didn’t defend much there. It just puts extra pressure on a guy who doesn’t need the extra pressure.
“In the middle, you have to look for the ball a little more. In the back you will get a little more quality ball. They only miss the Titans.
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DRINKING WATER GIVES PAYTEN SELECTION A HEADACHE
Scott Drinkwater was absent from the squad to start the season but is very hard to let him down when Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow returns from a knee injury in the coming weeks.
Drinkwater had 97 rushing yards, two tackle saves, two offloads, a line break, two assists, two assists and a try in a full back performance.
His scrum attempt to burn David Fifita was classy as he passed almost undamaged.
“Scott Drinkwater has to stay on the team when Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow comes back, right?” says Brenton Speed.
Corey Parker praised Drinkwater’s class to see space and exploit Fifita from set play.
“It’s a special Scotty Drinkwater piece,” Parker said.
“He was in everything in the first half. He comes out of the scrum and knocks down Val Holmes and splits the defenders. Once again gets outside David Fifita. Too much speed.
“We saw what he can do with the ball in the 9 years ago. It’s a special piece. He doesn’t lay hands on him.
“Scott Drinkwater has been an absolutely outstanding form of offense for the Cowboys.
“He came with a try assist, 70 yards running and a try in the first half only.
“He asked many questions. This individual solo effort from the back of the scrum was superb.
“We’ve seen some great individual tries in this ANZAC round already and this is one of the best.”
Cooper Cronk believes Drinkwater offers the Cowboys a dangerous and unpredictable weapon coming down the line given his history in halftimes.
“Drinkwater had some nice touches,” Cronk said.
“He looks super dangerous every time he touches the ball.
“Drinkwater showed his class at the back of the scrum with a play tryout.
“Drinking water with footwork and speed put David Fifita in a vulnerable position.”
Braith Anasta thinks Drinkwater is making the decision not to pick him to start the year looking silly.
“Scott Drinkwater, some people were asking why he wasn’t playing at the start of the year and he shows why he should have,” Anasta said.
“He came in with an impressive first 40 minutes and he backed it up in the second half.”
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TITANS BIGGEST PROBLEM EXPOSED
The Titans may be an exciting offensive team even if they didn’t show it against the Cowboys, but it’s their poor discipline and lack of commitment in the areas of effort that keep them from playing in the Finals. this season, if things continue. the way they go.
A second-half try summed up their lack of commitment to the cause when Jeremiah Nanai jumped over four Titans players who didn’t even challenge the hold to score the game-sealing try.
“You talk about small areas in games when you have to put in team effort,” Parker said.
“Jeremiah Nanai was the only man to dispute that. There were four Titans players pictured.
“All the preparation for the week was about Jeremiah Nanai and what he can do in the air.
“Bad discipline, mistakes, six against, failing to show up for a mission and the Cowboys make you pay.”
Benji Marshall noted that the Titans’ penchant for slow starts prevents them from staying competitive long enough to win games.
“Once again, the Titans are slowly starting another one of their games,” Marshall said.
“They attacked straight down their left side through this man David Fifita playing out of position.
“The Titans are struggling with their departure again.”
Cooper Cronk thinks the Titans just aren’t learning from past mistakes and their season is on life support with every loss.
“All the play was on the left side of the Cowboys’ field,” Cronk said.
“The three first-half tries the Cowboys scored, they went left. We spoke to Tom Dearden before the game and they were looking at this place.
“Justin Holbrook needs to put a rocket on the Titans.
“Their season is by no means over, but they are under a lot of pressure at the moment.
The North Queensland Cowboys host the Gold Coast Titans in a crucial clash at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
David Fifita will make a shock change at center after Phillip Sami is sent off, while Patrick Herbert will move to the wing.
Jaimin Jolliffe starts at the prop with Moeaki Fotuaika moving to the bench, while Kevin Proctor enters the second row for Fifita.
For the Cowboys, Coen Hess and Helium Luke went to the bench with Reuben Cotter and Tom Gilbert in their place.
For the Cowboys, Griffin Neame returns from concussion protocols with Jordan McLean named to start prop to Reuben Cotter moving to the bench.
Scott Drinkwater is at full-back and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow still has a week to recover from his knee injury.
For the Titans, Jamayne Isaako holds the fullback spot with Jayden Campbell still recovering from a rib injury.
The seventh-placed Cowboys will be looking to consolidate their eighth-place finish, while the 11th-placed Titans will be desperate to win to stay in touch with eight, making this a crucial encounter for both teams.
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