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Titans on alert for 'little' Bryce

In his second game in the NRL, Panthers forward Bryce Cartwright will be trying to bring down the team his uncle John coaches, the Titans. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos
Many rugby league fans wouldn't even be aware that Bryce Cartwright made his NRL debut last weekend.

Casual Panther supporters who tuned in last Friday night will have been impressed at their first look of the tall back-rower with a penchant for an offload while die-hard Penrith fans will have been salivating at the prospect of the raw-boned rookie making good on the promise he has displayed in the junior grades coming through the system.

For Titans coach John Cartwright, it was a whole new view of a nephew he remembers most as older brother David's kid running around in the family backyard back in Penrith.

If his introduction to the top grade against Parramatta was anything to go by, Cartwright will cause throbbing migraines for opposition defensive coaches for the next decade and Uncle John concedes the thought of shutting him down on Saturday night is a surreal one.

"It is a strange feeling. You remember your kids as babies and running around the backyard and that's my memories of Bryce, but he's obviously a lot bigger than that now," Cartwright said.

"He's dangerous. He's got offloads in him and he plays both sides of the field. He didn't show any lack of confidence coming in, I think the first couple of times he touched the ball he got offloads away and he poked his nose down the left side of the field and the right side of the field. It's a bit of an ominous sign for an opposition when a young guy can go in and be that confident.

"On Saturday he'll be just another guy in a black jumper but after the game I might punch him or cuddle him, we'll have to wait and see."

For 19-year-old Bryce, it will be a continuation of a dream start to his NRL career that began with Panthers and Roosters legend Brad Fittler presenting him with his maiden first grade jersey.

A New South Wales under-16s and under-18s representative, he conceded that carrying the Cartwright name at Penrith does bring with it additional pressures but said his father – who played five first grade games for the Panthers in 1980-81 – gave him some words of advice that held him in good stead.

"Yeah, I felt a lot of pressure. Everyone expected a lot from me. But I tried to just block that out and play my own game," Bryce said after his debut game that included three offloads.

"My dad just said, 'Don’t go into your shell, just treat it like any other game' and I felt I did that. 

"When I was a kid I went for the Roosters because Freddy (Fittler) was my favourite player. I only went for Freddy.

"He came into the sheds before the game and wished me luck. It’s just crazy for him to do that. It’s surreal. I didn't know what to say when he looked at me or shook my hand. It was crazy."

It will be much the same feeling for John when he pores over video to devise a game-plan to shut down his own nephew but he was full of praise for the way Panthers officials have managed Bryce's ascension to the grade.

Still eligible for the under-20s competition, calls grew loud last year when Penrith were out of finals contention for the youngster to be given a taste of first grade but John commended the club for the way they have brought him along.

"They've done a great job with him actually," John said. "They haven't rushed him in, they've given him plenty of time to find his feet through the first division at Penrith and he's gone through every level and done well.

"The opportunity the other night was a good time to blood him as well, with a big home crowd, home game. It's always nice to be able to give a guy the easiest possible pathway because it is a tough thing to do and he came through that with flying colours."

It was a 32-minute cameo at the back-end of a game the Panthers had well under control but it was enough to also grab the attention of Titans co-captain Greg Bird.

"I've noticed that," Bird said when told of his love of an offload. "I watched him play in the under-20s grand final last year and he's a good young player.

"Not sure where he's going to be playing, on the left edge, right edge or middle but I'm sure I'll come up in front of him at some stage during the game."

And when he does, that will be some welcome to first grade.
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