Although missing this weekend, Dave Taylor is a confirmed starter in the Titans team for the Auckland Nines. Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Gold Coast back-rower Dave Taylor will be let loose on the expansive playing arena offered by the inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines despite not being named in the Titans team for Sunday's trial against the Warriors in Auckland.
Although the final make-up of the Titans Nines team won't be finalised until next week, Gold Coast coach John Cartwright confirmed that Taylor will play as will fullback Will Zillman and outside backs Kevin Gordon and David Mead while co-captain Greg Bird is also expected to play.
Cartwright said that the majority of the Nines squad will come from the team that takes the field on Sunday with the abundance of outside backs at the club fighting for positions in that squad of 16.
New recruits Brad Tighe, Kalifa Faifai Loa and Siuatonga Likiliki get their chance to impress with Tighe and Likiliki given first shot at establishing themselves as the Titans centres for 2014 while Maurice Blair will be handed an opportunity to press his claims from the bench.
"The centre positions are the ones that are wide open," Cartwright said. "Zillman, Mead and Gordon, I rate them as high as any [back three] in the competition.
"They've had good off-seasons and they're ready to go so they will play in the last trial but the centre positions are wide open and there are a lot of guys there that can play in the centre.
"We'll try and give them all as equal an opportunity and most of those guys will play in the Nines and then they'll all have a crack in the last trial.
"Anyone who can put their hand up through the trials will get an inside run."
With something of an injury crisis hitting the hooking position, former Bulldogs under-20s back-rower Paul Carter has been thrust into the No.9 jersey for Sunday's trial as Cartwright endeavours to develop some versatility in his game.
While there is no timeframe on the return of Matt Srama from shoulder surgery and Beau Falloon is hoping to have recovered sufficiently from a hamstring strain to play in the final trial on February 22, Carter gets an unlikely shot at cementing a spot in the 17 for Round 1.
"Paul hasn't played a lot of hooker but I see his role there as one that could be real good for us," Cartwright said of the son of former Panthers premiership-winner Steve Carter.
"He's played a little bit at hooker as a kid but not at this level so just get him out there and see how he handles it.
"If you asked him he'd say he wants to play in the starting 13, that's what he's come here for, but as far as the team is concerned it's handy to have a guy who can play in a few different positions, especially the hooking role.
"It's such a specialised role so if he can come off the bench and do that and you know what he can do in the back row... If he plays well he'll certainly be pushing."
The news wasn't quite so good on co-captain Nate Myles who will be racing the clock to be fit to play in Round 1 against the Sharks following off-season groin surgery.
The Titans trial against the Warriors will be played at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday at 4pm NZ time.