Titans back-rower Ryan James in action during his side's win over the Raiders.

If they can shock the pundits one more time and upset the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday night, the young players in the Titans will have learnt the NRL's harshest lesson according to prop forward Ryan James.

Having been used on the left edge for the vast majority of the season James returns from suspension in the Gold Coast front row where he will face off against Test props Matt Scott and James Tamou.

 

Despite the controversy that has surrounded their season the Titans could conceivably finish just two wins outside the top eight and having lost four games by less than six points James said it is a lesson in what is required to be a finals contender in the NRL.

"[A win over the Cowboys] would be good for everyone's morale and all the younger players coming through. Realising that we are that close to the top eight and having to be on for 100 per cent of the season instead of 60 or 70 per cent of it," James said.

"Just winning those tight games comes into play and all the players who have had their debut season will take something out of this year knowing we definitely could have [qualified for the finals].

"It's just a learning curve for them and all the older players know what we have to do and it's going to be a learning curve for us.

"It's disappointing. There are a couple of games in there we could have won and we lost by a point or two points and you look at the ladder now and we're on 22 points and the Dragons are sitting on 26 so we win a couple of those games and we're in the top eight."

Six of the 17 Titans named to play North Queensland this week had played only a handful of games prior to this season or have made their debut in 2015.

The likes of Kane Elgey, Agnatius Paasi, Nene Macdonald, Kierran Moseley and Lachlan Burr have gone from no-names to regular NRL starters and James is confident they will avoid the dreaded second-year syndrome to build a positive future for the club.

"There were about four or five who were in their debut season but looking at them now you probably wouldn't think they were in their debut season," said James, who will play his 68th NRL game on Saturday.

"Guys like Agnatius Paasi has played excellent over the last few weeks and has been solid all year, Lachlan Burr's been great for us and Elgey's been great along with Kierran Moseley.

"They're all in their debut season and all playing excellent footy so hopefully they can take it into their second year."

Despite being the most penalised player in the competition through 25 rounds James has played more than 20 games in a season for just the second time in his six-year career, a foundation he believes will hold him in good stead heading into next year.

"I've pretty much got through the whole season injury free which was one of my goals at the start of the season," said the 24-year-old. "I was just happy to get through the majority of the season without any sort of major injuries.

"I'll take that and put it in the back of the head knowing I can just work on my game a lot more in the off-season and try and get a lot fitter next year.

"I'll just have to work on my fitness and strength over the off-season."