James Roberts has been named on a five-man bench and could make his Titans debut against his former club, the Panthers, on Saturday night. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos
They boast the least potent attack in the competition but Titans coach John Cartwright insists exciting youngster James Roberts won't be rushed into the side before he is ready.
Roberts has been named in the No.18 jumper on a five-man Titans bench for Saturday evening's clash at Cbus Super Stadium with the Panthers, the club who cut Roberts from their roster in March for disciplinary breaches. A decision on his Titans debut could happen as late as an hour before kick-off.
There are a number of changes to the Titans team to face Penrith with Maurice Blair preferred over Beau Henry at five-eighth, Greg Bird welcomed back from suspension, Matt Srama getting his first start at hooker of the season for the injured Beau Falloon, Ben Ridge being promoted to lock forward while Kevin Gordon and David Mead return to their usual positions on the wing in place of Anthony Don and Kalifa Faifai Loa.
On the comeback trail from a broken ankle suffered during pre-season training with Penrith in January, Roberts has played three games for Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup, scoring three tries and impressing team-mates with his classy displays.
Off-field discipline and injuries have been the only encumbrance to Roberts realising his enormous potential with the 21-year-old scoring 11 tries in 16 top grade appearances since making his debut with South Sydney in 2011.
The Titans are ranked last for line breaks thus far in 2014 with 23 – the next best is Cronulla with 35 – and only the struggling Sharks and Knights have scored less tries than the Gold Coast club. As they currently sit outside the top eight on points differential they are stats that need to be addressed but Cartwright said sparking the flailing attack won't be Roberts' responsibility.
"I don't want people to expect too much of him," Cartwright said. "He's a bit of a boom youngster but the fact is he's only played a handful of first grade games so we certainly don't expect a lot of him. We just want to make sure that the timing is right for him to go into the side.
"He's close, but he's only had the three games back at Q Cup level. He's handled those really well but sometimes you've just got to go with your gut and we'll do that as we get closer to the game.
"He's only had three games back and he's shown some flashes of what he's capable of there but he was out of the game for a long time and hasn't played a lot of first grade either so it's all going to be new to him."
The nephew of former Rooster and Dragon Amos Roberts, James arrived at the Titans having been sacked by both the Rabbitohs and Panthers for repeated disciplinary breaches but appears to have settled into Gold Coast life well.
He has a close friendship with Brad Tighe from their days at Penrith together and is also spoken highly of by former Rabbitohs team-mates Dave Taylor and Beau Falloon.
Talent is often given more than a second chance to succeed with Cartwright speaking highly of his contribution to the club, both on and off the field.
"I can't fault him. He's been tremendous not only on the field but he's been doing a lot of work within the club itself, going to schools, and anything that's needed James has put his hand up to do. We can't fault him," Cartwright said.
"We're undecided on the make-up of the side. He's getting close and we're just a little bit undecided at the moment which way we're going to go.
"[Playing against Penrith] hasn't come into it at all. Three games in we feel for a lot of guys is long enough but he hasn't played a lot of first grade so we'll discuss it between now and Saturday."