Titan Mead the new No.1 target
Electric Gold Coast Titan David Mead, selected to play just his second NRL match at fullback on Sunday in his side's crucial clash with the Wests Tigers, has a message for those players preparing to target him: "Go ahead."
A Titans regular on the wing, Mead has been shifted to the No.1 role following the injury to William Zillman and the demotion of Jordan Rankin. Mead says he expects to be targeted by the Tigers' playmakers – but he insists he's up to the challenge.
"I'm not sure how [Tigers mentor Mick Potter] coaches but if there's a new guy playing at fullback all teams try to test him out by putting some high balls up, putting him under some pressure and testing him out that way," Mead, fully recovered after breaking his jaw against the Eels in Round 6, tells NRL.com.
"Every game I go out there and back myself 100 per cent – if I didn't I wouldn't [be in the NRL]. When I go out there I'm going to be backing myself 100 per cent to do a good job."
Papua New Guinea-born Mead, who's proven an elusive and athletic customer in 85 games in the top grade, says he's excited about the shift and is determined to provide his team with clear communication and instruction from the back, especially in defence.
"It's been about a year since my last [game at fullback] – I played down in Melbourne there (in Round 23 last year)," Mead says.
"There's a lot more running and fitness involved but I'm looking forward it.
"[I want to provide] a lot of talk and direction for our team, especially in defence. Teams have scored a fair few points on us so I've got to try my best to help the boys out up the middle."
Mead, 24, is one of the quickest players in the competition and has fast established a reputation as one of the best finishers in the game, too. His scintillating acceleration and at-times-amazing hands (Google ‘David Mead try of the year 2011') have seen his name rapidly rise among the list of Origin candidates – even though Mead was born in Port Moresby. For the moment, though, the Titans back is putting his birthplace first – but he hasn't ditched the dream of one day pulling on an Origin jersey, too.
"I moved to Lismore when I was 12 but I was born in PNG," Mead, who admires the work of Billy Slater and Brett Stewart, says.
"When I moved to Lismore I played union all my life down there and played one year in rugby league for Marist Brothers under-18s and I think that's where my eligibility stays. I'm a New South Welshmen.
"I'm not 100 per cent sure what the rules are (for Origin eligibility) and they're not really black and white to me and I haven't found out how… especially because I haven't been considered either… I'm just concentrating on playing well for the Titans and if the opportunity comes I'd be pretty happy.
"That's the ultimate dream for rugby league players, it's the pinnacle of the sport, everyone wants to play there and so do I."
The man who came onto the scene as David Moore at the 2008 World Cup is, however, planning to represent the Kumuls at this year's festival.
"I've had a chat to a few of the other players from PNG and we're all pretty keen to play so at this current point in time the decision's going to be to play in the World Cup at the end of the year," Mead says.
"It's very exciting for me. It's something that kick-started my career and gave me a lot of confidence and belief. It's pretty exciting to go back and play with the players I have played with as well as the new guys who are coming through as well."
But, according to Mead, even his national teammates – and the Papua New Guinean public – would love to see him on league's biggest stage in the future. After all, the PNG people live and breathe rugby league.
"When I was living in PNG as a young kid I was watching Origin and I really wanted to play in that," Mead, who made his NRL debut in 2009, says.
"If anything ever came up I'd be pretty happy – I've even had a chat with a few PNG players and they said ‘if you get a chance to play Origin, take it with both hands 'cause we would too'. People over there consider themselves Queenslanders or New South Wales supporters even though they're from PNG.
"There's even a few people there who have changed their names – one of the security guards who worked at my dad's office in Port Moresby even changed his name to Mal Meninga! They're very passionate."
This week, though, Mead's mind is fiercely focused on the Titans – and keeping their season alive. The 183cm speedster says his team isn't in danger of entering the game against the 15th-placed Tigers complacent – and sliding out of finals contention themselves.
"There's a lot of things going on – we've been written off – but we've just got to concentrate on one game at a time and the results will take care of themselves," Mead says.
"We've still got the belief we can make it but at the same time we need to take it week by week and not look that far ahead.
"[The Tigers are] wanting to be playing better for sure. I think every team in the NRL, no matter where they sit on the table, stays pretty hungry and – the competition's that tough – sometimes the team coming last can beat the team coming first. You can never be complacent."