Unlikely Titans trio could fill gaps
Three players handed career lifelines by the Titans just last week may now play a crucial role in giving Gold Coast fans something to cheer about when the NRL season kicks off.
As the club looks to move forward with the financial security of the NRL behind it, Agnatius Paasi, Jai Ingram and Leva Li can now set their sights on making an impact after signing one-year contracts with the Titans.
All three players were faced with the prospect of a 'train and trial' contract with the Titans over the off-season as being their last shot at the big time, but they may now be given more opportunities under coach Neil Henry than they'd previously imagined.
Five current members of the Titans' top squad are presently suspended from all club activities as they await their days in court on drugs-related charges. As such, there is doubt that those players would be available for Round 1 against Wests Tigers, opening the door for the likes of Paasi, Ingram and Li to earn an NRL call-up.
Paasi is the only one of the trio with an NRL game to his name having debuted for the Warriors in Round 19 last season, but was offered only a trial contract again for the 2015 season.
Paasi made the tough decision to temporarily leave his partner and young son behind in New Zealand while he chased a new opportunity on the Gold Coast, where he had previously attended famed rugby league school Keebra Park High.
He began the summer well short of NRL condition but has impressed Titans coaching staff with his application and was one of the side's best performers in their trial win over the Warriors two weeks ago.
Ingram is the one who could benefit most, with the long-term pectoral injury suffered by Ben Ridge also creating space in the Titans back row.
Recruited by the Cowboys while still a schoolboy in Townsville, Ingram had stints in both the Storm and Bulldogs systems before repeated serious knee injuries forced him to leave the game for two years as he worked as a personal trainer in Hervey Bay.
He too had some bright spots in the trial game at Toowoomba but faces stiff competition from the likes of Ryan James, Matt Robinson, Ryan Simpkins, Eddy Pettybourne and Lachlan Burr for a spot in the Gold Coast 17.
"I had a chat with Neil and he said to me that I'm improving in all areas and the one area he wants me to work on is getting more mentally tough," Ingram told NRL.com.
"The one thing I really want to work on this year is getting mentally tough because if I can get mentally tough I can make better decisions when I'm fatigued. It doesn't matter how tired I am, if I'm mentally tough I'll be able to back it up.
"I'll probably give footy another year or two and by then I'll be 25 and we still do have the business back in Hervey Bay but I really want to study and do something with little kids.
"I've got a little boy now and you might have the world's worst day but you get home and there's so much life in these young kids, it's pretty cool."
With the depth of outside backs at the club Leva Li may have longer to wait to make his NRL debut after stints in the under-20s with Wests Tigers and Parramatta.
A strapping 20-year-old winger with a strong carry, Li has been touted by coach Henry as a project for the future but should suspensions and injuries hit hard, his time may come sooner rather than later.