AS far as Des Hasler is concerned we've all got it terribly wrong - Gold Coast should be the NRL premiership favourites.
Tipping the Titans ... Manly coach Des Hasler at Sea Eagles training. Photograph: Mark Evans Source: The Daily Telegraph
Forget the injury-hit Bulldogs, form slumping St George Illawarra, red-hot Parramatta and especially his up and down Manly Sea Eagles. Those best positioned to win the 2009 premiership are finals debutants the Titans.
"They're playing outstanding footy. They have strike power right across the field and can certainly score points,'' said Sea Eagles coach Hasler. "They've got a good work ethic and are all working really hard for each other. No wonder they are competition favourites.''
Gold Coast are not competition favourites, as a matter of fact they're not even close. Most bookmakers rate the Titans seventh behind the Bulldogs, Dragons, Sea Eagles, Eels, Melbourne and even Brisbane. Of the seven clubs guaranteed to play in this year's finals the Titans are ranked least likely to win.
This is despite Gold Coast running third on the NRL table with 16 wins from 23 games, boasting the competition's best record in close games and, more importantly, having posted victories over each of the teams considered to be better chances at winning the title.
Somehow the Titans have flown under the radar - not that Hasler is willing to give up that claim to fame after his class of 2008 carried off the premiership. "They're definitely a chance of taking it so they're are not flying under the radar, no way in the world,'' said Hasler.
Hasler will get the chance to gauge just how dangerous the Titans are when his Sea Eagles welcome them to Brookvale Oval on Saturday night. It is a crucial game for Manly as they could jump to fourth with a victory or drop as low as seventh by the end of the weekend with a loss.
While their chance at a home final hinge on Melbourne losing to the Warriors across the Tasman at the same time, Hasler simply wants his men to focus on getting their own form together before it's too late.
Their performance in a late win over a 12-man Cronulla side last Sunday was one of their worst all season and Hasler knows a repeat will be heavily punished in the future.
"Our form has been hampered a little with unforced errors and we just really need to turn up and put it together for 80 minutes,'' he said. "Until we do that we will continue to have to just put performances together like we did last week.
"We just have to get that element out of our game to have any chance in the finals series. Everyone just wants to get out there and do what we know we are capable of. It's been a bit frustrating for us but we have one final game of the regular season to do it and after that it becomes a bit sudden death.''