Titans CEO Graham Annesley out the front of CBUS Super Stadium in Robina. Picture: Jerad Williams
Titans CEO Graham Annesley out the front of CBUS Super Stadium in Robina. Picture: Jerad Williams

Coast rescue: Why Titans survived the axe

DEPARTING Titans chief executive Graham Annesley has revealed how close the Gold Coast came to losing another NRL club.

Annesley has packed up his office after five years at the Titans in preparation to begin his new life as the NRL's head of football next month.

The former first-grade referee quit his post as NSW sports minister in August 2013 to take up the CEO gig at the Titans.

The Titans were on their knees when Annesley arrived on the Gold Coast as club founder Michael Searle desperately tried to rescue the franchise under $25 million debt.

Searle and Annesley managed to keep the Titans afloat, with a lot of help from co-owner Darryl Kelly, who tipped more than $5 million into the club.

But in February 2015, on the back of a cocaine scandal and crippling debts, Titans owners decided they could no longer prop up the club.

Gold Coast Titans departing CEO Graham Annesley. Picture: Jerad Williams
Gold Coast Titans departing CEO Graham Annesley. Picture: Jerad Williams

The NRL came to the rescue of the Titans, but not before heavily scrutinising whether it was worth saving the club following the deaths of the Gold Coast Seagulls, Giants and Chargers in previous eras.

"Before the NRL stepped in to take over the ownership, they did a fair bit of research to make sure it was the right decision to keep it here," Annesley said.

"There is always an option to relocate a club to another area crying out for an NRL team. The NRL wanted to make sure they were making the right decision in keeping it here.

"When they did their research they found 80 per cent of the people on the Gold Coast come from either NSW or Queensland.

"That combined with 6000 local juniors and the fact it's southeast Queensland and northern NSW which is prime rugby league territory, they ultimately felt it was the right decision to keep it here.

"If they didn't do the research then other locations were options."

One of the most significant moments in Annesley's tenure at the Titans was landing the signature of two-time Dally M Medal winner Jarryd Hayne.

It was late in the 2016 season and Hayne was one of the biggest names in Australian sport following his brief dalliance with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL.

Annesley signed Hayne in a Surfers Paradise hotel and lodged the contract with the NRL at 11pm in order to announce his signing the next morning.

Jarryd Hayne never performed at his peak for the Titans.. (AAP Image/David Moir)
Jarryd Hayne never performed at his peak for the Titans.. (AAP Image/David Moir)

Hayne was supposed to take the Titans into another stratosphere on and off the field.

Instead, he turned out to be a problem child that barely fired a shot on the field and brought more off-field headaches than planned, eventually quitting the club after one-and-a-bit seasons.

"We don't regret signing Jarryd Hayne," Annesley said.

"Jarryd demonstrated this club could compete for the biggest names in the game and secure them.

"While Jarryd didn't work out the way we would have liked, or he would have liked, on the field, off the field he brought enormous focus to the club.

"He dragged many people through the gates in the early part of his time with us.

"There are a lot of aspects of the Jarryd Hayne period that were good for the club.

"If he had performed better on the field it would have been one of the greatest coups in the club's history."

Annesley, 61, would have fronted more press conferences than any other NRL club CEO over the past five years.

Many have been positive, but plenty have come on the back of controversy.

There was Daly Cherry-Evans' infamous backflip, the sacking of coaches John Cartwright and Neil Henry, and the well-publicised cocaine scandal in 2015.

The Titans have been on their knees plenty of times during Annesley's tenure, but are still alive and preparing to enter their 13th NRL season.

Ash Taylor is one of the brilliant young Titans on the Gold Coast roster. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Ash Taylor is one of the brilliant young Titans on the Gold Coast roster. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

"In my first few years here people were constantly asking if the club was going to survive or be relocated," Annesley said.

"We had a lot of off-field drama to sort through.

"There's been a few lowlights, but on balance there's been more positives than negatives.

"Our primary objective has been to give people hope the club is secure and confidence in its future.

"All the building blocks are in place for the club to get on with being as successful as possible on and off the field.

"The on-field part is very difficult. There are 16 clubs trying to have on-field success. Every year only eight of them make the finals.

"We've got the roster now and the coaching personnel to be a serious threat for finals football.

"I'd be very surprised if we're not a serious threat next year."

Annesley will depart the Titans on his own terms and with his reputation intact.

The Titans only managed one finals appearance (2016) during his five seasons, but that in itself was an achievement given the struggles the club has endured in that time.

Owners the Frizelles and Kellys are expected to appoint a new CEO before Christmas and Annesley hopes the Titans can take another step forward next year under coach Garth Brennan.

Graham Annesley hopes the Gold Coast are on the path to success under Garth Brennan. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Graham Annesley hopes the Gold Coast are on the path to success under Garth Brennan. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

"We've been successful in stabilising the club and giving it a future," he said.

"Has that been reflected in on-field results? It hasn't been as successful as we would have liked, but in order to have that on-field success you have to have a successful off-field organisation.

"It all starts in the front office. We now have an administration, structure and stability that many clubs would like to have.

"All the blocks are in place. We've got a roster many clubs in the competition would like to pick apart.

"The backbone of the team is there. It's now a matter for the coaching staff to get the best out of them."

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