Zillman: We're all fighting for our spot
It may have forced him to make an NRL comeback via Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup but co-captain William Zillman insists that the Titans can only become a genuine force when players are fighting for their positions on a weekly basis.
On Saturday Zillman will play at Cbus Super Stadium for the first time since Round 10 last year where a golden point loss to the Sharks served as his final game of the 2015 season.
A debilitating back injury that he had been managing for the two years prior failed to respond to treatment, necessitating back surgery that paved the way for Zillman to have a big pre-season where he was again among the leaders in fitness drills.
With the fullback spot guaranteed, Zillman was ready to start his 11th season in the NRL full of running before a calf injury flared up in the final trial against the Rabbitohs and kept him sidelined for the first five games of the season.
That opened the door for David Mead to once again impress in a caretaker custodian role and cause something of a selection headache for coach Neil Henry upon Zillman's return.
Young halves Ashley Taylor and Cameron Cullen were not expected to feature in first grade this early while the likes of Nathan Davis, John Olive, Kierran Moseley, Lachlan Burr and Nathaniel Peteru all find themselves in reserve grade this weekend, a sign Zillman says is a positive for the club's future.
"We'd be struggling as a club if everyone didn't feel pressure for their position," Zillman said ahead of his 158th NRL game on Saturday.
"The guys are a lot more accountable for their actions now and that can bring the best out in an individual.
"It's a very good thing that as the club continues to grow every year there is more and more depth which is a really good thing for our club.
"We've got several guys that can play along the whole backline and knowing that if we do happen to have an injury or someone is not necessarily in their best form that someone can fill in that position and do such a good job. It's a very positive thing for us.
"We're building a really good culture here at the moment and it's just great to be a part of that in general. To be able to run out onto the park with the boys is a special feeling on top of that."
Winning three of their first four games of the season made Zillman's stint on the sidelines slightly more tolerable while at the same time fuelling the desire to share in the on-field exploits of his teammates.
His profile on the Titans website states that he feels "lucky" every time he gets the chance to run onto the field to play rugby league and he said there were certainly a mixture of emotions going through him as he pulled the Titans jersey on again last Sunday.
"You get nervous before every game but you're slightly more nervous given that it was my first NRL fixture for nine or 10 months," Zillman told NRL.com.
"It was a frustrating process because [the back injury] was one of those things that I had managed from the previous couple of seasons. I'd missed a couple of games here or there but I'd been able to manage it and ended up coming back and I thought I'd be able to do the same thing last year but it was just slowly getting worse and worse.
"It got to a point where nothing was really affecting it in a positive way where I could get myself back on the park and that's why I ended up having to have the surgery.
"There are certain types of back surgeries and I had one of the less invasive ones for sure. You can get disc replacements and fusions and things like that which will go close to potentially ending someone's career.
"I guess you're nervous when you've got no idea about it but once you talk to the surgeon and he explains the ins and outs of it, it puts your mind at ease.
"I felt very fortunate I'd say to be back in the sheds with the boys, especially because they've had quite a bit of success this year and to be able to be a part of that.
"We didn't get the win on the weekend but the energy and the enthusiasm in the club at the moment is excellent, we just need to turn that into points."