Teen Titan in line for NRL call-up
Teenage Titans speedster Brian Kelly looks set to be handed his first opportunity to push for an NRL debut in 2016 with his name expected to be among the Gold Coast squad to contest the Downer NRL Auckland Nines next weekend.
The Titans are hoping to announce their Nines squad on Friday afternoon with a host of young players and fresh faces to be named in a senior Titans team for the first time, with Kelly a likely inclusion.
A Ballina Seagulls junior, Kelly will receive a hero's welcome when he returns to the Far North Coast town on Thursday as a member of the Titans NRL squad who will be visiting schools before conducting an open training session at Kingsford Smith Park from 3pm.
Eligible to play under-20s again in 2016, Kelly has been impressing senior Titans players throughout the pre-season with his speed and skill and already owns a unique piece of rugby league history having scored four tries for the New South Wales under-20s last season.
Throughout the 2015 season Kelly played at fullback and on the wing before finishing the year in the centres which is where Titans Holden Cup coach Ben Woolf believes his future lies.
Gold Coast's struggle to find a replacement for the departed James Roberts has been well documented and Woolf told NRL.com that exposure to a higher level of football will only serve to fast-track Kelly's development.
"He's the sort of kid that has got the ability to step up," Woolf said. "He showed that playing 20s for us as a 17-year-old straight out of Country Rugby League where he played A Grade for Ballina the year before.
"He played against men young, he played 20s young and getting that crack [at the Nines], I think he will step up to it well and the confidence he'll get from that will do him the world of good.
"He definitely needs to test himself against men this year and that will give us an indication of whether he's ready to go or not.
"I don't think he needs to be rushed and I don't think he will be, unless through playing in the trials we get a real good indication of where he's at."
In his bio on the Titans website Kelly says that his goal is to make his NRL debut in 2016 and veteran Gold Coast winger David Mead certainly likes what he sees.
"He's an exciting young talent. It's hard to believe he's still got another year in 20s with the way he approaches training," Mead said.
"He's had a real good pre-season, been training real hard and moves really well with the football in his hands, he's very unpredictable. I'm pretty excited to watch him play."
While excited at the talent that has yielded 24 tries in 39 Holden Cup games over the past two seasons, Woolf believes that on the training paddock is where the greatest improvement will come in the 19-year-old.
Coming into the Titans set-up with little exposure to professional training methods two years ago, Kelly suffered a further setback when he injured his ankle in pre-season prior to the 2015 season, further delaying his physical development.
That being the case, Woolf says it is important that he is given time to play against men in the Intrust Super Cup before being thrown into the toughest rugby league competition in the world.
"It's a big step for him. He probably needs to play a bit of Queensland Cup first," Woolf said of an NRL debut this season.
"It's his third year in under-20s so he's probably shown he can do that; the only benefit he'd get from playing with us is getting a little bit more exposure to playing in the centres.
"If anything has let Brian down in the past is that he didn't have a really big training background before he arrived.
"The first 12 months was just learning how to train and then last year he got the ankle injury so he missed the majority of the pre-season and that held him back considerably.
"He's got through this whole pre-season without injury, working harder and being fitter and stronger from doing that will be a world of benefit to him.
"On top of that, having the confidence of training week in and week out with the NRL players, it's going to boost him along really well.
"The more I see of him running at centre in first grade he's doing a better and better job."