March – the month of shared hope

March is a legitimate contender for my favourite month of the year. In no other month does the concept of hope resonate more strongly. Hope that my tipping competition exploits and ongoing duels with bookmakers will prove victorious over the winter months. Hope that via another skill-based medium, that of fantasy football in its multiple guises, more one-upmanship on mates can be attained. Hope that the Maroons win the State of Origin series for a seventh straight year. And last, but far from least, hope that this is the year for my beloved North Queensland Cowboys.

Changes up Townsville way had been relatively minor in the off-season. Halfback Robert Lui and promising centre Kane Linnett were the biggest signings; Willie Tonga the biggest departure. The new(ish) player I was most interested to see though was boom youngster Jason Taumalolo (who sadly was a late withdrawal from the game). Tariq Sims proved a wrecking ball in 2011; I was hoping for lightning to strike twice.

The transfer lounger at Robina, however, was a hive of big-market activity. The Titans opened the cheque book and snapped up Jamal Idris, Nate Myles, Luke Douglas and Beau Champion among others. Mat Rogers and Preston Campbell retired. Anthony Laffranchi joined St Helens.

Nathan Friend was the most perplexing Titans departure of all, heading to the Warriors after an injury-plagued year where his sharp playmaking from dummy half was desperately missed. I can’t remember the last premier to have a poor 1-6-7-9 combination in the spine, so to spend big but be a net loser across those four positions seemed an odd move for a ‘defending’ wooden spooner. It was the complete antithesis of recruitment during the Craig Bellamy era at Melbourne – never a good sign.

I therefore felt confident going in, the confidence tempered somewhat by the fact that it’s the opening round and such rounds have an extended history of scattering the pigeons with a well-placed cat.

Unfortunately though, the die was cast early in this one. Matt Scott dropped the ball on the opening set of six. The next possession concluded with another failure to complete the set, as did the third. Jamal Idris opened the scoring for the Titans, but even that failed to sting the Cowboys into greater ball security. At one point the completion rate read as three out of 13, but even that was a misnomer; the three ‘completed’ sets had involved receiving a penalty before the inevitable dropped ball came along.

The siren for half time mercifully blew with the 6-0 margin masking how lopsided the first half had been. I assured myself that the Titans would be made to pay for failing to take the game away when they had the chance.

Alas, the second half mirrored the first. Anger turned into ironic amusement and finally amazement. The great Johnathan Thurston failed to find touch from a penalty in the first half, but put one out on the full during the run of play in the second. Ashton Sims played the ball at a 90 degree angle to the intended target. More dropped ball. More forward passes. And so it went.

Mercifully, the Titans put the game away via tries to Michaels and a second to Idris. It’s hard to get a gauge on them in light of the cacophony of Cowboys errors, but a convincing road win is a convincing road win, no matter how you cut it.

As for my Cowboys, much like a batsman who keeps getting out before you can work if he’s in good touch or not, it’s hard to evaluate the implications of this performance for the season’s prospects. I hope it was an aberration. I hope to laugh about it come September. That’s the beautiful thing about hope, and why March is a great time of year for it.

GOLD COAST 18 (Tries: Idris 2, Michaels Goals: Prince 3/5)

NORTH QUEENSLAND 0

Venue: Dairy Farmers Stadium

Crowd: 16,311

Votes: 3- Jamal Idris (GC), 2- Greg Bird (GC), 1- Nate Myles (GC)

Milestones: Cowboys held scoreless at home for the first time since 2003.

About Cliff Bingham

Co-author of The Punters Guide to the 2013 AFL Season & writer for the 2012 Rugby League Almanac.

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