Mal’s Titans ultimatum: Shape up or ship out
THE Gold Coast Titans have been put on notice, with rugby league Immortal Mal Meninga declaring new contracts won't be offered to underperforming players as the club weighs up a $3 million roster purge.
The Titans are anchored to the bottom of the NRL ladder after three rounds following Friday's 36-6 defeat to North Queensland in Townsville.
The club has suffered three emphatic defeats to start 2020, going down to the Raiders (18 points), Eels (40 points) and Cowboys (30 points) under new coach Justin Holbrook.
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With 10 players off-contract at season's end, the Titans have a golden opportunity to overhaul the squad that collected last year's wooden spoon.
Captains Ryan James and Kevin Proctor, former NSW Origin hooker Nathan Peats and all-time leading tryscorer Anthony Don are among the players fighting for new deals.
However reputations will count for little when it comes to the negotiating table.
Meninga, the Titans' head of performance and culture, said the players had to prove they were worthy of contract offers.
"All the players are fully aware they've got to play well to get another contract," he said.
"That's the way it is at the moment. It puts the club in a good position.
"We want to see players playing well and with strong belief in each other. We want them to be competitive.
"If they do that they deserve a contract. If they don't, that's the way it is."
The Titans will lose Queensland Origin star Jai Arrow to South Sydney next season and the club's only confirmed 2021 recruit at this stage is rising Storm sensation Tino Fa'asuamaleaui.
Meninga has highlighted Broncos young gun David Fifita as his prime recruitment target and the Titans are also on the hunt for an experienced leader.
Complicating the recruitment and retention decisions are the fact the Intrust Super Cup season has been abandoned for 2020 due to COVID-19.
Club captain James, the Titans' longest-serving player ever, will miss the entire 2020 season following knee surgery and Meninga said the players' input around the club would not be ignored.
"It's not really fair at the moment because only 17 players can play," he said.
"It won't be a fair and equitable opportunity to prove yourself to get a new contract.
"It's what you do around the club, team and how you handle yourself over this period of time that's going to hold people in good stead and help us make good decisions.
"It's not just about playing. It's what they do around the club and their behaviour around the team that's really important."
With the Titans on a 14-game losing streak and nearing 12 months without a win in the NRL, albeit with an extra two-month break, former St Helens coach mentor Holbrook said his focus was on the field.
"I haven't looked that far in advance," he said when asked about his off-contract players.
"I'm sure it's on the players' minds.
"But for me it's about picking the best side, that's my main focus. All of that stuff is up to the individuals and managers to worry about."