Titan torn by new dual role
Back-rower Ryan Simpkins is determined not to let his new-found utility value detract from his ultimate goal of forcing his way into the Titans starting team.
Having impressed coach Neil Henry since earning selection into the side for Round 2, Simpkins was used in the dummy-half role for nine minutes as relief for starting hooker Kierran Moseley in last Friday night's 26-16 loss to the Broncos.
With regular starting No.9 Beau Falloon still sidelined for a further week due to suspension and facing a powerful Parramatta pack on Saturday afternoon, Henry is likely to again opt for a bigger bench over a specialised hooker as part of his interchange.
Simpkins made 24 tackles and ran for 49 metres in his total of 45 minutes against the Broncos and said while he is happy to play a similar role against the Eels, the former Panther is eyeing off a spot in the starting team.
"I'd like to get a starting spot as a back-rower and to do that you've got to be playing back row all the time," Simpkins told NRL.com.
"If it means I get more minutes and more games then I'm happy to switch between the two. It's not something that really worries me too much.
"It doesn't matter where you're playing, as long as you're out there doing your best then you'll get your chance to start with injuries or the rep season and things like that so you've just got to keep fit and be ready when a chance comes and play well.
"Most clubs on their bench are looking at two front-rowers and a hooker and maybe a back-rower or utility type player. If you can have a guy on the bench who can play in the back row and at hooker it probably can open up another bench spot to have a specialist or another forward like we had tonight.
"If I can work on it a bit and prove that I can do a decent job there it could get me some more minutes and some more games."
Given the progress of Moseley in the opening month of the season Henry was happy to gamble on the 21-year-old playing big minutes against the Broncos and the Cloncurry kid didn't let him down.
Moseley's spark around the ruck area was integral in putting the Titans on the front foot in the opening quarter of the game with Henry highlighting the team's slow response to his hooker's creativity.
"We probably missed a few opportunities that he created actually," Henry said. "We thought he could play 60-65 minutes and Ryan Simpkins has had a few little games at nine before and he handled that as well.
"[Simpkins] is a good defender and has got a pass so he just needed to do a bit of a cameo for us and we didn't need to have two specialist hookers.
"We can get a back-rower who can play a bit of hooker as well which meant our bench was a little bit bigger."
Simpkins isn't completely unfamiliar to the hooking position having played there in the latter stages of his schoolboy career and also in the lower grades during his time at the Panthers.
His father, Robert Simpkins, played 33 of his 159 career first grade games at hooker but with the likes of Falloon, Moseley, Matt Srama and Christian Hazard on the Titans' roster, Simpkins was given no hint by Henry that he would be used in the role throughout the pre-season.
"I filled in there at training maybe once or twice but when I spoke to Neil during the pre-season he never mentioned the possibility of me playing hooker," said Simpkins.
"I was mainly worried about just getting good passes out of there, especially when I was passing to the halves; trying to give them good service, that was the main thing. I wasn't really thinking about creating too much.
"I'm not any under any illusions that I'm a great hooker or anything but just try not to make any mistakes and do my tackles."
Heading into the Broncos game with just one win in the first month, the Titans were unable to convert time and territory into points in the opening 20 minutes, symptomatic of a team searching for confidence.
"We're a side that's searching for a bit of belief and confidence at the moment so when you do get a lot of possession at the start of the game and don't come away with any points, if you're not strong mentally it can hurt you," Simpkins admitted.
"Neil acknowledged the fact that we were pretty good coming out of our own end and completed most of our sets, it was when we got our opportunities we just didn't take them.
"We just made basic errors and didn't give ourselves a chance to score points really in that second half. It's just something we've got to work hard at."