Sailor: James has Scott-like qualities
He's yet to play an NRL game in 2014 but Queensland Origin legend Wendell Sailor believes Titans forward Ryan James is the man New South Wales need to stem an eight-year Maroon tide.
Having finished the 2013 season as one of the form front-rowers of the competition and with an impressive pre-season behind him, James suffered a shoulder injury in the club's first trial that has kept him out of the Titans 17 for the first two rounds of the season.
He made his first appearance in the Intrust Super Cup last weekend with Tweed Heads and with the shoulder coming through unscathed, is expected to be promoted from an extended bench to face the Raiders on Sunday night.
Touted as a future Blues Origin rep while still playing in the under-20 competition, James averaged 177 metres in the final six games of last season and Sailor believes he can act as a cornerstone of the NSW pack for many years to come.
"I expect Ryan James to be in the Origin mix this year," Sailor told NRL.com. "The last couple of years I've seen him, I've worked with him, he's had injuries but he's a guy who can be like a Matt Scott. [Andrew] Fifita did well last year and I just think that Ryan James can be like a Matt Scott for NSW over the next couple of years."
While he made special mention of the Titans' big man, what excites Sailor the most about the Gold Coast in 2014 is their lightning-fast backline. Speaking on Triple M ahead of Round 1, the veteran of 222 NRL games said that he didn't believe there was a faster backline currently in the competition, a statement he stands by despite last week's humiliating loss to the Tigers.
"I was going through the games and I said to the boys, 'I haven't seen a quicker backline than what I see here at the Titans,'" Sailor said of his initial summation.
"I know Souths have got a good backline and the Warriors are probably close to it in terms of a quick backline but not from halfback to fullback, and I'm sticking by that.
"Everyone knows how quick Kevin Gordon is and David Mead and Zillman, they reckon Zillman is the quickest out of the lot of them; 'Birdy' (Titans co-captain Greg Bird) told me that a couple of years ago. Yeah, over a hundred he would be but then you look at Gordon and Mead and what they bring and just as I tweeted you see Albert Kelly go 80-90 metres. That excites me.
"Everyone knows that the Titans have always had a really strong forward pack, a lot of internationals and Origin players but you need a quality backline to finish it off."
Having spoken of his dismay at the prevalence of wrestling when he returned to rugby league in 2008, Sailor is delighted with the new rule changes in 2014 that have sped the game up, opened it up and given the little men room and time to play footy again.
"If you get a quick play-the-ball and [wingers] come in for a hit-up or a scoot, your A defenders are going to be tired and there's going to be gaps behind the ruck," Sailor explained.
"Even if you tighten them up there are going to be gaps around the B or the C defenders. That means it's going to open up, that means it's going to be more points scored – which some coaches are blowing up about – but it can only be good for the game.
"We want to see the little men come back into it, like Allan Langer. I used to love playing with Allan Langer because I remember one day in 1995, the Warriors were beating us, we were down 22-4 with 15 minutes to go, we were just about gone, there was no way we were going to beat the Warriors.
"Allan Langer single-handedly got us back into that game because he was taking those quick taps back when you could play on a bit and not having the captains coming in and questioning everything.
"I would rather see the game open up as it is now rather than all the crap we were going through with the wrestle and the third-man in, that was frustrating me."