Cooper Cronk was critical of David Fifita’s switch to centre to cover the loss of Phillip Sami and it didn’t take long for the Cowboys to exploit him in defence, but he hit back to set up a try to make it 6-4.
However the Cowboys extended their lead with a try to Murray Taulagi down Fifita’s side of the field to make it 12-4.
Fifita’s tough night at the office in defence continued when Scott Drinkwater burned him off a scrum to score almost untouched.
Jeremiah Nanai returned from a stint in the sin bin in the second half to leap high and score to put the game beyond doubt.
Helium Luki put the icing on the cake with a superb solo try albeit through some flimsy Titans defence to seal a big win for the Cowboys.
Here are the key takeaways from the match.
FIFITA SWITCH BLOWS UP IN TITANS FACES
An injury to Phillip Sami saw Justin Holbrook shift David Fifita to the centres and the positional switch was an unmitigated disaster.
Cooper Cronk warned against the move prematch and was ultimately proved correct as the Cowboys exploited Fifita in defence.
“I don’t like it,” Cronk said pregame.
“I would put Fifita back in the back row. You have just got to get him in his preferred position.
“He is not going to touch the ball nearly as much.
“They are only going to be one out carries from the back field and defensively he could be found out with his decision making.
“I would move Proctor to the bench and Fermor out to the centres.
“And he is going to be playing right centre and that is their worst defensive side,” Cronk said.
“Holmes and Dearden they are going left so that means that Fifita is going to be under pressure defensively with Dearden and crew coming at him.”
Benji Marshall lamented the decision to move Fifita just as he was starting to find consistency and form in the back row.
“I think it just clouds his role in the side,” Marshall said.
“He was starting to find a bit of form in the back row and doing all the little things that everyone was asking for, especially from the coach around the little effort areas in the back row.
“Then he was still pulling off those moments of individual brilliance. If he could put together running good lines and working on his combinations with the halves all together he would have been flying.
“Now he has to reset himself playing in a different position and go looking for the ball as well.”
Corey Parker noted Cronk’s prophecy had come true after the first try of the night to Tom Dearden.
Valentine Holmes produced an in and away to put his winger Murray Taulagi down the sideline before he passed back inside for Dearden to score under the posts.
“David Fifita is an enormous talent we know what sort of player he is but when you have traffic and numbers coming at you at speed it is very hard to deal with,” Parker said.
“Cronk said prematch he didn’t like the idea and that is a real good indication of why.
“The centres is such a specific area to defend in. In their first real opportunity the Cowboys pull the trigger and they come up with the first try.”
Parker was damning of the failed experiment at halftime.
“Plenty spoken about Fifita being moved to centre and he has come up with a try assist, but only 50 run metres at halftime.
“We know how devastating he can be with the ball, but it is defensively where he has had his issues tonight coming up against Valentine Holmes on that left edge of the Cowboys.”
Brent Tate has played centre at all levels of the game and noted the nuances to the position defensively that make it so hard for a stopgap solution to succeed.
“It is obviously a big ask for David Fifita,” Tate said.
“Obviously attack he will be OK, but it is defensively your movements and positioning where you need to be when you are playing centre that he is going to find very difficult.
“Not only that he is coming up against a player in a rich vein of form in Valentine Holmes. He has been outstanding and probably the form centre of the competition for the last six weeks.
“It is a big ask and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we will see Tom Dearden and Holmes come down Fifita’s side of the field.”
Marshall agreed that Justin Holbrook had thrown Fifita a huge curve-ball with the last-minute switch.
“To be fair he is playing out of position,” Marshall said.
“It is not his fault. He hasn’t defended there a lot. It just puts extra pressure on a guy who doesn’t need any extra pressure.
“At centre you have to go looking for the ball a bit more. At back row you are going to get a bit more quality ball. They are lacking that the Titans.”
DRINKWATER GIVES PAYTEN SELECTION HEADACHE
Scott Drinkwater was out of the team to start the season, but he is making it very hard to drop him when Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow returns from a knee injury in the coming weeks.
Drinkwater had 97 run metres, two tackle busts, two offloads, a linebreak, two linebreak assists, two try assists and a try in a complete performance at the back.
“Scott Drinkwater he has got to stay in the team when Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow gets back doesn’t he?” Brenton Speed said.
Corey Parker lauded Drinkwater’s class to see the space and exploit Fifita from a set play.
“This is a special play from Scotty Drinkwater,” Parker said.
“He has been in everything in the first half. He breaks from the scrum and brings Val Holmes under and splits the defenders. Once again gets on the outside of David Fifita. Too much speed.
“We saw what he can do with the ball over in the 9s a couple of years ago. This is a special play. He does not get a hand laid on him.
“Scott Drinkwater has been absolutely outstanding attacking form for the Cowboys.
“He came up with a try assist, 70 run metres and a try in the first half alone.
“He has asked numerous questions. That individual solo effort from the back of the scrum was superb.
“We have seen some great individual tries already this ANZAC round and that is one of the best.”
Cooper Cronk believes Drinkwater offers the Cowboys a dangerous and unpredictable weapon coming into the line given his history in the halves.
“He looks super dangerous every time he touches the ball.
“Drinkwater showed his class off the back of the scrum with a set play try.
“Drinkwater with footwork and speed has put David Fifita in a vulnerable position.”
Braith Anasta believes Drinkwater is making the decision not to pick him to start the year look silly.
“Scott Drinkwater some people were asking why he wasn’t playing at the start of the year and he is showing why he should have been,” Anasta said.
“He came up with an awesome first 40 minutes and he backed it up in the second half.”