Injured Titans on track for trials
Some of the Titans' most significant off-season signings have barely set foot on the training paddock but high performance chief Matt Ford believes close to all will be fit and available for when trials begin in early February.
With the Christmas break looming large the intensity at pre-season training is raised a notch or two but new Gold Coast recruits Zeb Taia, Nathan Friend and Ashley Taylor have largely been confined to the rehab group after off-season surgeries and treatment.
David Hala, Josh Hoffman, William Zillman and Daniel Mortimer have also been limited to what their bodies are subjected to due to lingering injury concerns but Ford told NRL.com that the older players should have no problem being physically prepared for when the football starts.
"At this stage I think most will be," Ford said of the availability of those returning from injury.
"It will depend a little bit on their injury and there are a few guys that haven't actually run as yet so it will depend on how quickly they come up to speed when they do start running, particularly for guys like Zeb Taia.
"His training age is well above some of the younger kids in rehab so we'd expect to be able to get him back up to that game conditioning level quite quickly.
"Some of the younger guys might take that little bit longer and they're the ones that could have more of a question mark come February around the trial period."
The young player who can least afford to miss an opportunity to play in upcoming trial games in Alice Springs (against the Eels), Whangarei (against the Warriors) and Burleigh (against the Rabbitohs) is Junior Kangaroos half Ashley Taylor.
With second-year half Kane Elgey leading many of the fitness sessions and Knights recruit Tyrone Roberts slotting in well, complications with Taylor's ill-timed hand injury could see him miss the boat to press his early claims.
Despite starting pre-season with the rehab group, Ford said there will be no question of Taylor's fitness ahead of pre-season fixtures but that it would largely depend on how quickly he can integrate into the skill work after Christmas.
"The good thing with Ash's injury is that he's really only restricted with his skill work at the moment," Ford said.
"Over the last two weeks he's been able to progress to the main group with all his running so he's going to be fit and ready to go by the trial period.
"It's just a matter of Neil [Henry, Titans head coach] and the coaching staff being able to integrate him to the skills and into the team sometime between now and when the trials do start."
Given a few days off by coach Neil Henry after a gruelling three-day Army boot camp west of the Gold Coast, Titans players will return to training and a new-look high performance unit conscious that time to lay a physical platform is fast running out.
"The reality is once you start getting into January and early February stage you've got to start juggling those pre-season trials and Nines and the benefits we need to get we need to really have by then," Ford said. "It makes that December period really important."
And when Christmas comes around will the players have the opportunity to indulge in some festive fare?
"They train too hard through this period to let it all slip over that Christmas period," Ford warned.
"Having said that you have got to be realistic and know that's the time of year where they're going to enjoy some food and maybe a couple of drinks with their family.
"They've just got to find that balance and there will be benchmarks in place for when they do return in January that they haven't let their fitness levels or their body composition levels slip."