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Treatment not fit for a Prince

Foundation Gold Coast Titans player Scott Prince.

Foundation Gold Coast Titans player Scott Prince. Photo: Getty Images

The Gold Coast Titans shouldn't be so hasty to enter post-Prince era, writes Phil Lutton.

 

With Scott Prince a strong chance of departing the Gold Coast Titans for the slightly greyer but financially substantial pastures of Hull, it's worth remembering what he he may be leaving behind, or more importantly, what was there before he arrived.

The answer was a gamble. A punt. A foray into a region that had proved unstable and completely unreliable as an environment in which an elite rugby league team could flourish. A cocktail of strange recruitment, poor planning, bad football and semi-interested fans had been terminal in the past.

For all of the hard work and passion and dedication by those who dreamed up the Titans concept, pushed for a stadium deal, primed the market and made sure the footings were built of cement, not shifting sands, it was left to a handful of players to drive it all home.

Scott Prince was one of those at the wheel of the showpiece product – the team. He had returned to his native state from Sydney to be the quarterback of a newly minted operation, a role which he vigorously embraced on the turf and in a promotional capacity.

There were others who were selfless in spreading the love, like Luke Bailey and Mat Rogers, but none could match the flashing Prince smile that seemed made for cheery morning television spots with the crashing waves in the background.

His enthusiasm to sell the club appeared to be boundless. Rarely did he knock back an interview request in those early years and his photo seemed to be in the Gold Coast Bulletin eight days out of seven. The local paper had found its very own Darren Lockyer.

On the field, everything seemed to run through the premiership-winning half, who would have played a great deal more games for his state and country if he wasn't tasked with overcoming Johnathan Thurston, one of the greatest generals the game has had the pleasure to witness.

He had lost little of his power and creativity and helped the Titans become competitive after just two seasons. Indeed, the Titans became so reliant on Prince they began to slowly boil at suggestions they couldn't win a game without him (at one point, that was essentially true).

After one pre-season training session at Runaway Bay in the club's first season, Prince sat down on a bench, looked around at the glorious sunshine and declared he wanted to finish his career on the Gold Coast. This was his end game. Where else would he rather be?

At that stage, as the club's golden boy, the Titans wouldn't have disagreed. They had one of the best halfbacks of the past 20 years at their disposal and pledging his long-term allegiance to a franchise which, at that point, still had mountains of doubters to overcome and respect to win, especially with one of the game's pin-ups clubs just an hour down the road.

Fast forward five years and the Prince-Titans relationship has changed dramatically. The veteran playmaker appears on the way out, one way or another. Saying that he has been 'linked' with a move to UK side Hull would be to suggest Prince made the first move to relocate from Skilled Park. That isn't the case.

Prince has been 'shopped around' in an effort to clear out salary cap room. He's already had to eat humble pie as he watched the Titans make a play for Cooper Cronk, a man who would have displaced him from what would almost certainly be the club's best-selling jersey. Now he's had to come back for seconds.

Even Paul Broughton, the club's chairman, is telling Prince to go rather than stay.

"If the club were not going to tell him they were going to renew his contract in 2014 until mid-2013 then I think it would have been really bad," he told Australian Associated Press.

"I think now he can make a commercial decision that will advantage him in the long term."

Advantage Prince? He hardly seems to be jumping at the opportunity to pack up his family and move to Hull. He has already met with Hull FC coach Peter Gentle but didn't leap over the desk to sign on the dotted line.

Instead, he has opted to talk things over with the Titans. Thus far, given the tone from Broughton, the term 'unwanted' seems to apply. The Titans would appear to believe Prince has reached his used-by date.

Trying to offload Prince raises all sorts of questions for the Titans, who are desperate to return to the finals and bury a series of financial and legal issues that made the football somewhat of a sideshow at times last season.

From a football perspective, the obvious query is – who do they replace him with? Prince, at 32, isn't the same player he was at 25. But he's by no means a spent force. He seemed short of answers at times last season but finished strongly in a new halves pairing with Aidan Sezar.

He was still good enough to create 20 try assists (10th in the NRL), kick 61 goals and score four tries. In the season wash-up, his form would have to be looked at as one of the club's bright spots as they finished three places outside of the eight.

It's even more curious given there is no obvious candidate to take his place. The club has signed Albert Kelly, who is talented but at his third club by the age of just 21. Jordan Rankin is a longer term prospect.

Handling veteran players, or knowing when to gently nudge them off the stage, is never a simple issue for football clubs. Ask the Brisbane Broncos, who eventually made good with Petero Civoniceva but only after fans were left aghast by the way he was squeezed out to go to the Panthers in 2008.

It was a horrible look for the Broncos, especially as it concerned a player now celebrated as one of the most honest and decent ever to suit up at Red Hill. Bridges are mended but the scars remain for a club that generally has a fine record of looking after its own.

After battling hard to win back their fans following the Centre of Excellence calamity, the Titans need to be exceptionally careful how they handle a player that is still regarded by many as a) their best player, and b) the face of rugby league in the region.

A decision will be made soon. Hull has put its final offer on the table and Prince has just days to mull it all over. Moving to the frosty climes of the industrial north-east probably wasn't on the to-do for a couple of weeks ago Prince but it is fast becoming his only option.

The club has an option on his contract after 2013 and is reported to have told him it's unlikely to be activated, leaving him out of a job in 2014. A three-year deal with Hull would give him financial stability but a sour end to a wonderful contribution to the Australian game.

But this is rugby league, so there are other theories floating around its movers and shakers. A decorated former player made a case to me that the Broncos should buy Prince on a year or two-year deal, which would see him return to Red Hill after he spent two years there between 2001 and 2003.

Brisbane are determined not to buy talent but a former player may get through the cracks. Given the slower than expected progression of five-eighth Corey Norman, having a quality playmaker like Prince for a season or two makes vast amounts of sense.

Given the contribution Prince has given to the Titans, the loyalty he has shown and the fire he has left on the field, being awkwardly shuffled out of the frame would be an unfortunate and undeserving conclusion to his Australian career.

The grass might be greener for Prince in England, where he would most likely star in the Super League and stock up his bank account in the process.

But with all-star underachiever Jamal Idris in dire need of some form and fitness and another troubled talent in Dave Taylor on the way to the club, the Titans may find themselves wishing themselves back in time if Prince takes his talents to Humberside.

2 comments so far

  • For most of his career Scott Prince has not really been given his rightful recognition or opportunities. He should have played far more rep football. He is far more creative and better to watch on field than many who have been more in faour with the selectors.

    My advice is take the money on offer in Hull and go to where your talents will surely be more appreciated. Hull, or 'ull as the locals call it, well it's certainly not the Gold Coast, but there's gold in that there Humber!

    The Titans will be poorer for the loss of your efforts both on and off the field.

    Commenter
    Greg A
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    October 26, 2012, 7:49PM
    • I would argue he wasn't our best player, although he certainly wasn't our worst. The club has some issues for sure but so does the team: a directionless coach and a team that can only function through one player is a dysfunctional combination. Good luck Prince with your decision but the team needs to become a team with options.

      Commenter
      Titanic
      Location
      Nanjing
      Date and time
      October 26, 2012, 11:17PM

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