Mortimer: 'I wanna be like JT'
Buoyed by the opportunity to start a season at halfback for the first time in his career, Titans half Daniel Mortimer is refashioning his game in the model of the player he most admires, Johnathan Thurston.
With heightened motivation to make the position his own, Mortimer has been drilling Titans coach Neil Henry for information about his days working with Thurston in North Queensland and the areas of his game in which he needs to improve.
Mortimer has been working closely with applied sports scientist Tim Gabbett on rediscovering the speed he says he has dropped since being used in the hooking role in three years at the Roosters but points to Thurston's competitiveness as his most admired trait.
With youngsters Christian Hazard, Kane Elgey and Jamal Fogarty the only back-up to first-choice Titans halves Mortimer and Aidan Sezer, Mortimer said that his admiration for Thurston is driving him to become the halfback his team needs in 2015.
"[Neil] has coached probably my favourite player in the game in Johnathan Thurston so if I can learn a bit off Neil and he can give me a few tips on how to play my position well it's only going to help me. You've seen the way Johnathan plays, he's quite a freak," Mortimer said.
"It's probably not a technical thing but just his competitiveness. He's everywhere and you saw against the Roosters last year in the semi-final he just didn't give up and his team fed off that and that's what I want to do with my game.
"I've never been one to give up but JT's the ultimate competitor.
"I haven't had this opportunity for a number of years to start in the halves and to really cement my spot. That alone is the most motivation I've had in a long time. I loved my time at the Roosters but this opportunity in itself, to play half and play 80 minutes, is really all I need to want to hold that spot."
The earliest in a season that Mortimer has ever worn the No.7 jersey was in his second year in the top grade in 2010 when he was paired with Kris Keating for the Eels in Round 6, going on to play 15 games at halfback that year.
Prior to his arrival at the Titans midway through last season it had been more than two years since Mortimer had been named to start at halfback but with a full pre-season under his belt feels he is now ready to lead an NRL team around the park.
"Naturally I'm a bit older and a bit more experienced now and that's ultimately the halfback's role, to steer the ship and I'm really enjoying that role so far," said the 25-year-old.
"The forwards are really jumping on board and they want to be steered and I think everyone's on the same page, which probably didn't happen last year because I was so new.
"It's great to have this time and this experience in the halves to get that confidence and get that combination with the forwards.
While taking on more responsibility within the team itself, Mortimer is also assisting in the development of the young halves in the squad as they endeavour to make the transition from under-20s to NRL.
Kane Elgey was named Holden Cup player of the year last season, Jamal Fogarty played extensively in the Intrust Super Cup on his return from a serious knee injury while Christian Hazard had an injury-disrupted year.
Despite the lack of experience in such key positions in the club, Mortimer said that the enthusiasm of the younger players is a reminder of his introduction to first grade in 2009.
"It feels not long ago at all. I can't believe I'm turning 26 this year, it felt like a year ago that I debuted," said Mortimer, who has now played 102 NRL matches for the Eels, Roosters and Titans.
"I still have very fond memories of coming up. It can be a little bit daunting for some young boys coming up and it's still quite daunting for me with some of the players I play with. The young boys are like I was I guess, full of beans and ripping into everything which is what they need to do to make it."