01 Sep 40/20 Vision with Scott Prince
The Gold Coast Titans must address an issue far greater than a new coach, their 2015 playing roster or concerns over their attacking structure.
The more I look at this club that I know inside-out and still care a great deal about, the more I come back to the same nagging conclusion: This is a club that has lost its soul.
By ‘soul’ I mean – culture, identity, the one main thing that a player feels when he dons the club colours.
When I was approached by club founder Michael Searle almost a decade ago to be a part of this exciting new franchise on the Gold Coast there were a lot of things that made the move from Sydney attractive.
But there was one overriding reason why I came to the Titans and it was something that I have spoken about to my wife Kristy on numerous occasions.
I wanted to be a part of creating a club culture from the very start. I wanted to have a positive influence from Day 1. I wanted my thumbprint on the identity of the Gold Coast Titans. So that in 10, 20, or 30 years I could look at that same club and know I had just a little to do with the strong foundation that the club now boasted.
When people talked of the Titans there would be a respect for what they stood for.
In our first four years that certainly was the case. We started to build a healthy club culture. On and off the field we were kicking goals.
We made the finals in our third year and in our fourth were one game from the grand final.
We also had a far-from-flash roster. No disrespect, but many of our players were fringe first grade. But they embraced the culture of the club and became part of a very tight unit.
Our culture was simple. We turned up for the bloke beside us and we played for 80 minutes. We were disciplined. No short cuts. No excuses.
And that is how other teams started to view us. They knew when they played us they would have to play out the 80 minutes no matter what the score.
I knew that was a rock solid culture that you could build on. Add a few more quality players and the sky was the limit.
The person most responsible for that culture was former top grade rugby league player and boxer Billy Johnstone. He was our initial conditioner.
Billy was old school. You trained until you spewed and then you kept training. No doubt many of his methods would be viewed now as out-dated.
However there were two key elements to Billy that took me a while to fully understand and respect. At the end of a pre-season under Billy you not only were the fittest team in the comp, but we were also one of the tightest. The methods he used during training brought players (men) together as a unit.
You were as strong as your weakest link, so you all worked together.
Billy was big on talk. In the gym you counted your reps out loud. If you didn’t, you, and whoever your training partners were, would all have to start again.
The reason? In a game situation, when you are under the pump, tired and sore, the first thing to disappear is communication. Billy made sure we ran and talked until the final hooter.
So initially I was rapt with the culture we were creating at the Titans. However by the fourth year, with Billy gone, I started to notice cracks in that culture.
For example, whenever a player first makes top grade at the Titans he receives a club jersey. At the final ball session before a game every player in the top 17 would wear their jersey.
We started that from day one. But I recall in year four one or two senior players would complain about being ‘too hot’ or whatever and would wear a singlet.
A small thing, but it sent out the wrong message. A tradition was broken. Individuals were saying: ‘I am bigger than the team’.
I have no doubt that those small cracks have created what you have today, a team that lacks soul.
To get that back you look at the senior players and coaching staff. They are the ones who set the benchmark, who show, by example, how high the bar is.
On one hand I would have loved to have had the quality playing roster that the Titans now boast playing beside me in 2010. A premiership would have been a realistic scenario.
On the other hand, in 2010 I played beside a group who I knew would always turn up no matter how tired, battered or bruised. We were there for each other.
That was who we were. That was our culture.
Put the two together and you can still have an unbelievable club.