Titans prepare to throw rookies into deep end
The Titans are weighing up whether they can trust the most inexperienced halves pairing in the club's history to engineer a win against competition favourites Brisbane at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday night.
Coach Neil Henry confirmed on Thursday morning that five-eighth Tyrone Roberts would miss the game due to bone bruising in his knee and is now toying with the idea of handing Cameron Cullen his NRL debut against the club where he played under-20s.
A Gold Coast junior, Cullen was only brought into the Titans' full-time squad in the wake of the season-ending knee injury to Kane Elgey in January but impressed in a trial game against Souths and has since performed strongly for Burleigh in the Intrust Super Cup.
The 22-year-old would partner 21-year-old Ashley Taylor in the halves with a combined five games of NRL experience between them but Henry believes he showed enough in the trial game against South Sydney to indicate he could handle the occasion.
The last time the Titans fielded a halves combination with less than 10 games of first grade experience was in Round 9, 2012 when Aidan Sezer and Jordan Rankin paired up against the Wests Tigers, but Henry has confidence in Cullen's composure.
"I thought that in the trial against Souths, they were nearly full strength and he handled that. He went through for a try and set up another try so he's done enough full-time training for that not to worry him," Henry said.
"He's been around in a few systems and he's still only young. He did a pre-season with the Broncos and then up there with the Cowboys but is a local boy from Cabarita. It is a good story for a bit of perseverance but he's only a young player and he's developing his game as well.
"He's been solid in Queensland Cup, Burleigh are travelling along OK. He was good against the Mackay Cutters and in his last game at the top level was that Souths trial and he was very handy there as well.
"Whether or not we think this game will be his debut game or not we'll make that decision later."
If the Titans decide not to risk Cullen against the Broncos it is likely that Greg Bird will shift to five-eighth and Eddy Pettybourne would come back into a reshuffled forward pack.
The final make-up of the Titans' 17 is unlikely to be known until an hour before the 7.05pm kick-off in Queensland with Ryan James to take his place in the team following his successful trip to the judiciary on Wednesday night, Nathan Friend to return at hooker and William Zillman a slim chance to play his first game of the season.
Rather than being concerned by the unsettled nature of their preparation, captain Nathan Friend says it is a good opportunity to display the depth they have in key positions.
"That's what you do off-seasons for, you always slot players in and out and you do that during the week," said Friend, who returns from a week off due to repeated head knocks.
"We always have rotations whether it's two or three in certain positions and that kind of depth is what breeds success and we've still got that at present.
"Obviously we've lost Kane Elgey but apart from that most positions can be filled quite easily.
"It's a really good opportunity for ourselves to see where we're at. We are only early on in the piece so it's a great yardstick for us.
"Last weekend's game between [Brisbane] and North Queensland was a high quality game and we know that if we want to be competitive we need to match it this weekend with the Broncs."