The battle between the third-placed Tigers and the Titans, who sit in fourth, was settled by a magnificent 50-metre field goal from Benji Marshall on the stroke of halftime, which proved to be the difference, as the Tigers held off a late onslaught from the visitors in front of a crowd of 14,050.
Tigers skipper Robbie Farah, who has been snubbed by NSW selectors this season, was the inspiration for this side’s second successive win with an outstanding display out of dummy half.
Marshall’s audacious effort on the stroke of halftime gave the Tigers a 9-8 halftime lead after the Titans had largely dominated the opening period.
The Queenslanders should have been well clear at the break and were left to rue the spurning of three golden opportunities due to some careless handling from Mat Rogers and Kevin Gordon, that prevented certain tries.
The visitors scored from the opening set of the game through Rogers after just two minutes.
Scott Prince, back in the side after a hamstring injury, provided a well-weighted grubber-kick that was misjudged by Wade McKinnon, allowing the former Wallabies star to scoop up the loose ball and then boot over the conversion.
The Titans were made to pay for those missed chances as the home side restored parity thanks to some great work from Farah that set up Mitch Brown to score.
Rogers restored the lead for his side with a close-range penalty, with Marshall responding in kind for the Tigers, before slotting over from halfway on the siren.
It was evident from the first kick-off that there’s no love lost between the sides, and the powderkeg exploded in the 59th minute with players from both sides exchanging blows after Farah claimed he was head-butted in the scrum by Nathan Friend.
The incident earned Titans backrower Mark Minichiello a spell in the sin-bin, but the 12 men showed great determination in defence to repel the Tigers, before Blake Ayshford finally crossed in the left corner in the 67th minute to extend the home side’s lead to 15-8.
The try was largely down to some excellent work from Lote Tuqiri who stole the ball from Preston Campbell and Chris Heighington combined with Farah, who released Ayshford.
The Titans, who have made a reputation as the comeback kings of the NRL this season, closed the gap just two minutes later when Kevin Gordon stretched out to touch down Prince’s kick.
That try set up a grandstand finish, with the Titans being denied what would have been a certain try to William Zillman in the final minute when Prince was controversially adjudged to have thrown the pass forward.
Tigers coach Tim Sheens said the football gods were smiling on Marshall, who also slotted home two sideline conversions and a penalty, when he scored the decisive field goal.
“I started off by saying ‘what the hell is he trying to do’ and then it bounced off the crossbar and you say ‘you beauty’,” Sheens said.
“He hit it well and it is up there with Darren (Lockyer’s) for Queensland in Origin.
“We have been practising field goals a bit this season and we have more field goals than anyone in the comp.”
Farah defended his role in the blow up that led to Minichiello’s sin-binning and accused Friend of taking cheap shots at him.
“He was at me all game, hitting me after I had passed so I had a little dig at him … when we packed in the scrum he led with his head which I wasn’t too happy about so I stood up for myself,” Farah said.
Titans coach John Cartwright refused to discuss the performances of referees Ashley Klein and Gavin Badger but was full of praise for his players.
Cartwright was seething at the late forward pass decision and the sin-binning, but said his side would be guaranteed a finals spot if they demonstrated the same spirit for the rest of the season.
“It was a great effort and probably a great game to watch, and a tremendous effort from my guys, but I am not talking about referees just the football,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright also cleared his players from any blame for Marshall’s freakish effort and praised the Kiwi playmaker for his effort.