Lawton makes history as Titans ring changes
Twenty-year-old Karl Lawton will make history when he makes his NRL debut for the Titans on Saturday with coach Neil Henry making a number of key changes to his team to face the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium.
Going into the clash level on competition points with the Warriors and eyeing off a place in the top eight, the Titans have two major outs with co-captain Nathan Friend unable to recover from a hand injury suffered last week against the Raiders and halfback Ashley Taylor being rested with a groin injury.
As a result Henry has named Lawton to debut in the centres, handed No.7 Cameron Cullen his third game of the season, shifted Chris McQueen back to the back row and pushed Leivaha Pulu back to the bench with Ryan Simpkins to cover the dummy-half duties along with starting hooker Nathan Peats. Forward Eddy Pettybourne is also out with concussion, meaning Lachlan Burr will come on to the bench.
The elevation of Lawton to the top grade is a significant one for the Titans as it represents the first time two brothers have played for the club, Karl joining older brother Kayne who played seven games for the Titans from 2009-2012.
A Burleigh Bears junior who is obsessed with the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lawton said that it was a dream come true to follow in his brother's footsteps and play in the NRL with the Titans.
"It means a lot to me to follow Kayne and become the first brothers to play first grade for the Titans, and at the same age – it's pretty special," Karl said.
"He's stoked. He's travelling in Europe but we’ve messaged.
"It was a surprise to get my debut, especially in the centres, but the boys are really good in making me feel comfortable and I'm really thankful Neil has shown faith, after having a late start to the season."
Lawton missed the start of the season due to a pelvic injury that eventually required surgery and Henry is confident he can handle the difficult assignment of marking up on Warriors powerhouse Solomone Kata.
A Queensland under-20s representative last year, Lawton has played the majority of his football in the halves and at hooker but has spent the past month filling in in the centres for Tweed Heads in the Intrust Super Cup.
"Another local that has come through our system, another 20s player now playing at Tweed and he's quite a utility player," Henry said.
"He's been playing in the centres for Seagulls and doing a good job so he'll get his opportunity out there tomorrow."
Cullen is another in good form having guided Burleigh to the top of the Intrust Super Cup ladder with Henry stressing the importance of resting Taylor prior to the run to the finals.
"It's unfortunate for Ash," said Henry of his 21-year-old rookie sensation.
"It's an ongoing problem and we feel with the bye coming up it was an opportunity to rest him this week so he gets a few weeks off and he'll be right for our next game against the Dragons on a Friday night in Sydney.
"[Cullen] has been good for us and in good form for the [Intrust Super] Cup competition leaders the Burleigh Bears.
"He's familiar with our plays and training full-time with us now so he'll do the job for us."
The Titans have won only one game from their 10 most recent meetings with the Warriors, a 32-28 win at Mt Smart last year.
If their task wasn't hard enough they will be greeted when they run onto the field by a sea of giant Simon Mannering masks as the club celebrates their former captain's 250th game in the NRL, joining Stacey Jones as the only two Warriors players to achieve the milestone.