By ADRIAN MILLER
WHEN Gavin Cooper dived on a Matt Hilder chip kick to seal a 22-10 Titans victory over Parramatta in a trial match at Lismore on Saturday night, he didn't just hand the Gold Coast their first win, he delivered a message to the entire NRL competition: "underestimate us at your peril."
It was not just that the Titans emerged victorious over a full-strength Parramatta side, it was the manner in which they notched their first win that will have their NRL rivals on high alert.
An 8612-strong crowd turned out at Oakes Oval to watch the Gold Coast and Parramatta do battle and while both sides made plenty of mistakes, the Titans' punishing pre-season was rewarded as they powered home to score a gutsy come-from-behind win.
They not only outlasted an Eels outfit that dominated early but they outscored their opponents 18-6 after half-time.
Unlike last weekend's outing against Melbourne at Coffs Harbour, when their second-stringers wilted against a late Storm onslaught, the Titans seemed to improve against the Eels as the game progressed.
Halfback Scott Prince was the standout performer along with inspirational forward leader Luke Bailey while two-try hero Cooper, hooker Clint Amos and fullback Preston Campbell also impressed.
In his first game of league since 2001, former Wallabies fullback Mat Rogers went largely unnoticed.
Rogers dropped his first two passes but they were difficult and he saw little ball before being replaced at the break.
Titans coach John Cartwright said while pleasing to notch an early win, it was the manner in which it was achieved that was most impressive.
"It was a typical early season game, there was a lot of dropped ball but the positive is that we held them out," he said.
"That bond we had in the defensive line was great and it's something you really need to win games when you're under pressure.
"We probably didn't play that well, but courage-wise it was 10 out of 10. They went out there and aimed up."
Cartwright downplayed the significance of the match but declared the result an important stepping stone for the fledgling club.
"We tried to treat it a little bit more than a trial," he said.
"You don't want to go into a competition at any level not winning a game.
New Parramatta coach Michael Hagan said he was impressed with the Titans' class, although the Eels helped them by repeatedly losing possession.
"They've got some very good players who, if you turn the ball over like we did, will take advantage of that," Hagan said.
"They had a bit of class in a couple of tries they scored and I think the fans will get behind them pretty well."
The Titans will continue their pre-season campaign against Penrith at Carrara Stadium on Friday night.
They begin the season proper against St George Illawarra in Brisbane on March 18.