McQueen's belief in Titans roster grows
He admitted to doubts when he arrived at the club in late December but Titans recruit Chris McQueen says that by reaching the semi-finals of the Downer NRL Auckland Nines that young players have proved they are ready for first grade.
With a handful of youngsters making their maiden appearances in open company the Titans proved to be the surprise packets of the tournament, knocking over the Raiders and Dragons on their way to the finals before easily accounting for Manly in the quarters.
While McQueen and Agnatius Paasi were the Gold Coast players to be selected in the team of the tournament, the eye-catching displays of Greg Leleisiuao, Brian Kelly, Ashley Taylor, Shane Wright, Nathan Davis and Nathaniel Peteru gave senior players confidence in what's to come in season 2016.
Taylor is realistically the only player in that group pushing for selection in Round 1 against the Knights but McQueen said seeing them in action for the first time has given him belief in their ability to handle the top level.
"There was always a question mark on how we were going to go and how long it would take to come together as a team and for them to get their confidence so to see them go out there and play the way they did it gives us confidence that we're going to gel as a team sooner," McQueen told NRL.com.
"Coming here knowing there were a lot of young guys and you have that question mark about how we were all going to come together and how we were going to go as a team.
"Obviously we've still got a bit to go in terms of experience but seeing the way the boys are ripping in at training and how excited everyone is for the season, that's been the biggest change, seeing how hungry the boys are."
Coach Neil Henry echoed McQueen's sentiments that the performances of younger players would instil confidence also in the senior players around them.
They will once again be given a chance to impress this weekend in separate trials against Downer Auckland Nines finalists the Warriors (Whangarei) and Eels (Alice Springs) with Henry eager to harness the positive energy coming out of their success at the Nines.
"It works both ways. The younger guys get confidence about being able to match it and the older guys get a bit of confidence in them being able to do it and get the enthusiasm from them as well," Henry said.
"It's showing the older guys that these guys can cut it and they did a pretty good job over there.
"It was good to see some of the young guys go across there and enjoy themselves too and play in front of big crowds.
"It was a carnival atmosphere so to experience that and mix it with the NRL boys, the young players will take a bit of confidence out of that.
"There's good energy around a result like that, having a couple of good wins brings with it a positive vibe."
Explosive winger Greg Leleisiuao was particularly impressive in his first appearance alongside NRL talent, Henry delighted with the way he handled the extra physicality that comes with playing against men, albeit in the Nines format of the game.
"That's how he plays. If you watched him in the 20s last year he has a lot of tackle breaks, very good on his feet, very strong and he's hard to handle," Henry said.
"He really handled the physical nature of it quite well but again there is a fair bit more space out there in the Nines format."