Honeymoon is over for Titans
THE honeymoon period is well and truly over for the Gold Coast Titans.
In their inaugural NRL season of 2007, the Titans rode a wave of emotion to climb into the top four before injuries to key players cruelled their finals hopes.
They lost eight of their last 10 matches, including a 50-6 thrashing at the hands of eventual premiers Melbourne in the final round as they limped into 12th spot.
With some handy recruits, a new stadium and relatively few injuries heading into their season-opener against North Queensland on March 14, Titans supporters expect better in 2008.
And so does coach John Cartwright, who wants nothing less than a top eight finish.
To do so the Titans need to learn to win on the road after only winning twice away from the Gold Coast.
The Titans have bulked up their forward pack, recruiting props Aaron Cannings (Parramatta) and Matthew Cross (Penrith), and the signing of Queensland State of Origin back-rower Ashley Harrison will complement workhorses Mark Minichiello and Anthony Laffranchi.
"I think he'll be a major investment in the club over the next five years," Cartwright said about former Roosters player Harrison.
Competition for the wings is fierce, with Matt Petersen, Chris Walker, Smith Samau, teenage sensation Shannon Walker, Brenton Bowen and Ben Jeffrey battling for two spots.
Excitement machine Shannon Walker, 19, is almost certain to play NRL this year but Cartwright says it's important to get the timing right.
"People forget that 18 months ago he was playing country football for Kyogle," Cartwright said.
"He's come a long way in a short period of time. Having said that, every level he's jumped to he's handled on his ear.
"I definitely see him playing first grade at some stage this year but we don't want to throw him to the wolves."
Walker showed electrifying pace and a terrific step to score a spectacular try in the February 16 trial against the Raiders.
"I don't know if there's any player in the NRL who could've scored that try," an impressed Cartwright said.
Of course the Titans' finals hopes will still rest on their big three halfback Scott Prince, prop Luke Bailey and former Wallaby Mat Rogers, who will get first crack at five-eighth this season.
The Titans certainly have improved their depth but it will amount to nothing if co-captain Prince is injured for a lengthy period. Like a good wine, Cartwright can only see the former Australian Test and Maroons No 7 improving with age. AAP