GOLD COAST produced their best defensive performance in almost four years to upset North Queensland 18-0 in Townsville last night.
After leading 6-0 at half-time, last season's wooden spooners added two more tries in the second half to score an encouraging first-up win.
Not since June 2008 - when they defeated Melbourne 18-0 - have the Titans held a team to zero.
Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston was disgusted with his team's performance. ''It was probably our worst game as a whole we've ever played,'' he said.
The new-look Titans dominated the first half but were unable to make the Cowboys pay for their error-ridden period. The visitors opened the scoring in just the fifth minute when star recruit Jamal Idris pounced on a Scott Prince kick.
The Cowboys struggled to hold onto the ball, completing fewer than half of their sets in the first half and missing seven tackles in the opening 20 minutes. Despite constant pressure and opportunities, the Titans couldn't find the line again although Prince extended the lead in 35th minute, kicking a penalty after he was shoulder-charged late by Cowboy Gavin Cooper.
Meanwhile, it has taken only 80 minutes for bookmakers to put a line through Parramatta's premiership hopes and install them as favourites for the wooden spoon.
However, the Eels are confident of improving on their opening showing against Brisbane, with prized recruit Willie Tonga's likely availability against the Warriors tomorrow week providing welcome selection headaches for coach Stephen Kearney.
A new-look Parramatta side showed glimpses of promise against the Broncos but, much like they did last season, struggled to close out a game within their grasp. The result prompted TAB Sportsbet to post them as the $5 favourites to end the year with the most losses. The Gold Coast, the team the Eels defeated to avoid the spoon last year, are on the next line of betting.
''Even with Jarryd Hayne to come back, they could be in for a long year,'' Matt Jenkins of TAB Sportsbet said.
The Eels were without Hayne and Tonga, although Kearney said he hoped both would be available for the Parramatta Stadium clash against last year's grand finalists. Former Canterbury pivot Ben Roberts suffered a quadriceps strain and was forced to watch the final quarter from the sidelines, but is confident of being fit for round two.
''It was hard to watch,'' Roberts said. ''I wanted to be out there helping the boys but that's the way things go. Hopefully it's nothing too serious and I'll be able to play next week.''
There were some encouraging signs. Chris Sandow played a composed hand in his first game for the blue and gold. However, a series of team errors, coupled with the loss of Roberts, conspired against the home side. The former Rabbitoh said that it would take time to get used to his new surroundings.
''I'm new to the club and hopefully we can start building something sooner rather than later,'' Sandow said. ''We're still new as players and a team and hopefully we can build on that for next week's game.''
Asked about Sandow's debut, Brisbane skipper Sam Thaiday said: ''We handled him really well. He was someone we had a bit of a focus on during the week and we knew we had to shut him down because he's a very good player when you let him play football. He's probably still trying to find his groove and once he finds that he'll be the player he was at Souths.''
If Sandow was nervous about his first game, he wasn't showing it.
''I was pretty cruisy about it, probably just happy playing the first game for [Parramatta],'' he said. ''I wasn't nervous, more just happy to come out and play with the boys.''
With so much pressure on Sandow, Roberts said he needed to step up. '''Chrissy' has got a lot of pressure on his shoulders. If I can help him in any way, I'm happy to do that,'' he said.
Another positive for Kearney was the performance of a three-quarter line comprising youngsters Ken Sio, Ryan Morgan, Esi Tonga and Cheyse Blair. ''It was an impressive start,'' he said.
GOLD COAST 18 (J Idris 2 S Michaels tries S Prince 3 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 0 at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Referee: Steve Lyons, Alan Shortall. Crowd: 16,311.