For many Australians the Gold Coast has always felt like the nation’s version of Las Vegas – a glitzy, showy party hub where high-flying success and crushed ambition mingle uneasily under a sun-kissed Queensland sky.
Just like the American city, the Gold Coast is also a place where taking a gamble can bring big rewards or shattered dreams.
In 2022 the city’s NRL team has done the sporting equivalent of placing all their chips on a single number on a roulette table.
When the season kicks off against Parramatta this weekend, it’ll be the start of a new era for the club where three local products – AJ Brimson, Toby Sexton and Jayden Campbell – will carry the burden of expectation that comes with a club which has promised its members it will win at least one premiership by 2030.
The trio have been backed to be the team’s playmaking core this season, despite Sexton and Campbell having made a combined total of 11 NRL appearances between them.
Brimson – a State of Origin player – is the most experienced of the trio with 63 first-grade games under his belt but the 23-year-old will be moving to five-eighth to accommodate fullback Campbell’s rise.
Local junior Toby Sexton made his NRL debut last season – and didn’t take long to impress the coaching staff and Titans fans
Supremely talented ball-runner David Fifita has been described by some footy pundits as a once-in-a-generation player
The No.6 jersey isn’t completely unfamiliar to Brimson, who played in the position regularly in his junior days and started his NRL career there, but the last of his 15 NRL appearances for the Titans at five-eighth was in round 25, 2019.
Coach Justin Holbrook’s faith in the talented but largely untested trio is the roll of the dice which carries the potential to transform the notoriously underperforming club’s fortunes.
If it pays off and the three become the stars of a dominant team, they’ll emulate the fairytale success of Penrith – a feel-good story about a bunch of local kids turned premiership winners.
Equally, if those dice land badly, it will be just the latest failure to launch for a club that has struggled in all three key positions for the best part of a decade.
Not since the days of Jayden’s father – inaugural Titan Preston Campbell – has the club realistically been in the premiership frame.
An experienced trio of Campbell, Mat Rogers and Scott Prince were the Titans’ fullback, five-eighth and halfback when they fell one game short of a grand final in 2010 – the closest the club has ever been to lifting the Provan-Summons Trophy.
Ash Taylor’s time at the Titans shows how quickly youthful promise can be crushed by the weight of expectation.
Signed as a teenager from local rivals Brisbane and winning the Dally M rookie of the year gong in 2016, Taylor was burdened by the attention of a big-money contract extension and his form suffered as a result.
It meant the 26-year-old was let go at the end of last season without a contract, eventually landing a contract with the Warriors after a brief period on a train-and-trial deal.
Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui – himself an unproven leader having been handed the role at just 21 – isn’t fazed by the club’s big gamble, however.
‘It’s obviously a very young spine but they’re very good,’ Fa’asuamaleaui told AAP.
‘It’s exciting for the future but they’ll be with us for a few years and it’s something in the making that’s positive.
‘I’m happy to lead the boys from the front and hopefully we can do something special.’
At just 21, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui has been handed the captaincy role – and is relishing the opportunity
Excitement machine Jayden Campbell’s elevation into first grade at fullback has seen fellow young gun AJ Brimson shift into the halves
Backing youth is also a high stakes game for Holbrook as he enters his third season as Titans coach.
Sneaking into the finals before bowing out in the opening weekend of the post-season to the Sydney Roosters was just about a pass mark having recruited heavily in the build-up the 2021 campaign with the addition of star names such as Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita.
Building on that and pushing into the rarefied air of the competition’s top four is the obvious next step for Holbrook and his team, and one Fa’asuamaleaui – a premiership winner with Melbourne before his Titans move – is confident the team can achieve.
‘It’s about our attention to detail and being consistent. It all comes down to the little things and that was something we struggled with,’ he said.
‘Whether it’s defence or passing or effort areas, they’re the small things that people watching at home might not notice.
‘We’ve been working really hard on making sure we nail them this year. We’ve improved so much and if we can get that right it will help us.’