Why Ryan James matters to Titans
He almost slipped through their fingers before the latest Gold Coast incarnation was even established and if Ryan James had decided to play elsewhere from 2015 and beyond, the foundations of the Titans' Centre of Excellence would have looked decidedly shaky.
In the wake of Jamal Idris's post-Christmas departure, Titans management needed a win and while the three-year contract extension of a 22-year-old with less than 50 first grade games to his credit may seem commonplace, keeping James was integral to the future success of the Gold Coast franchise.
Following the press conference to herald the announcement that he was staying, James requested a quick break to duck out and grab some sushi down the road from Titans HQ before returning for a newspaper photo shoot. He hadn't even got around the first roundabout before he had to wind down his driver-side window and accept the congratulations of a Gold Coast couple out for a lunch-time walk.
Ryan James is by no means an accomplished first-grader but if the Titans had been unable to keep the local lad on the coast it would have caused greater ructions among fans than the loss of Idris.
Entering just their seventh season, the Titans are still very much a club trying to forge a new identity and win over transplanted supporters who for the most part have two teams; the Titans and the team they grew up supporting.
If they hope to engage the next generation as out-and-out Titans fans, ensuring local products such as James remain on the Gold Coast is imperative to the club's fortunes.
"In the bigger picture for the club, it's a big part of the jigsaw... An extremely important day for the club, regardless of the short term," said Titans coach John Cartwright.
"For the long term I think it's a huge show of faith from Ryan. I know the interest that was out there and for him to say, 'No, I want to stay at my home club,' and turn his back on what was probably a lot more money, it's a huge statement for the club."
As a member of the 2008 Australian Schoolboys team that also included future NRL stars Jamal Idris, Albert Kelly, Aaron Woods, William Hopoate, Martin Taupau and Kurt Baptiste, James was contracted to the Melbourne Storm but jumped at the chance to cut ties with the 2007 Grand Final winners and become a Titan.
"Before the club was here I signed with Melbourne," James explained. "The year after my brother signed here and ever since that I had my heart set on playing for the Gold Coast.
"Not often do you get a rugby league club set up in your backyard and it's been a dream to come up through the ranks, the 18s and the 20s and eventually into first grade.
"Obviously getting security for that amount of time is something everyone wishes for but to do it in your backyard where you've grown up your whole life, I'm very honoured and proud that I'm able to do it for my home team."
Having made his NRL debut in 2010 as an 18-year-old, a serious knee injury midway through 2011 not only brought a premature end to that season but restricted James to just three top grade games in 2012 as he battled to regain confidence in his knee.
Named in the 2010 Toyota Cup Team of the Year and a member of the 2011 Indigenous All Stars team, James had started in just one NRL game across his first three seasons in the NRL but his performances in the run-on team in the final six games of last season will all but ensure he is one of Cartwright's starting props in Round 1 against the Sharks.
In six games to round out 2013 James ran for 1,061 metres from 111 hit-ups at an average of 177 metres per game and led to Cartwright labelling him as the form front-rower of the competition at the end of Round 26.
Those performances came on the back of James being dropped for the Round 20 game against South Sydney and added further testimony to the wonderful character he possesses with the manner in which he responded.
"I got dropped a couple of weeks beforehand which is probably the best thing that ever happened to me," James said. "I got stuck in second gear and didn't really want to push for that front-row starting spot but then when 'Carty' gave me the nod I started training harder and playing some of the best footy I've ever played."
The 194-centimetre, 121-kilogram colossus has been one of the leaders in pre-season fitness sessions and is seen as a future New South Wales Origin representative and a leader at the club, making his signature a highly-prized one by Cartwright and Titans CEO Graham Annesley.
"It's incredibly important, particularly for the young people on the Gold Coast and in the region to see someone like Ryan come through and represent the club and the fantastic career he's got in front of him," Annesley said.
"He sets a tremendous example for the local youth and the young players that want to emulate his success. I think it sends a really important message."
And a timely one as far as the Titans are concerned.