Hayne inclusion a risk worth taking
Before meeting their high profile recruit on Wednesday Titans players gathered and vowed that the addition of Jarryd Hayne would not pull apart what they had already achieved as a group this season.
Titans coach Neil Henry confirmed on Saturday that 701 days after walking away from rugby league to pursue his American NFL dream, Hayne would be back in the NRL on Sunday against the Warriors in what is now one of the biggest games of the season.
The Titans' largest crowd of the year is all but guaranteed on the back of Hayne's signing as Gold Coast endeavour to hold at bay a Warriors team that sits just one point behind them on the ladder and who have won 10 of the past 11 meetings between the teams.
The Warriors have been dealt a massive blow with the withdrawal of hooker Issac Luke due to a knee injury while the Titans go in without five-eighth Tyrone Roberts, also with a knee injury.
The omission of Roberts opens the door for Cameron Cullen to start in the halves alongside Ashley Taylor and the inclusion of Hayne on the bench who is expected to slot in at five-eighth midway through the first half.
The danger of introducing such a dominant player into a team that has already exceeded all outside expectations this season is that it can negatively impact the continuity of the team but captain Ryan James said that was addressed prior to Hayne's arrival.
"We've had talks about that," James said.
"We've got us to where we are now and we've just had him join the squad.
"We had a great squad and he's just made it even better.
"If we can use our squad to its full potential I think we'll be pushing towards that top eight at the end of the year."
Although Hayne has been absent from rugby league for close to two years and had very little actual playing time in the NFL and with the Fiji rugby sevens team, James said he displayed some things in his first training run on Thursday that made his Titans teammates take notice.
"Being in American sports is a lot different to us and you could see by the way we did a bit of sprint work the other day that he was a lot more advanced than most of us were," James said.
"We did a couple of hurdle drills the other day and a bit of sprinting and where he's been and the athlete that he is, just watching his footwork is phenomenal.
"He looks exactly the same since I last watched him play footy and still got the same ball skills.
"He's still quick and got that x-factor about him so hopefully he brings that against the Warriors on the weekend.
"You watch his journey – I followed his journey pretty closely – and to have him here with us, you've sort of got to pinch yourself.
"You see him on TV and in headlines all the time and it's going to be great for us as a club because we don't get much media up here and it's going to be better for us to grow as a brand."
Blooding a new player into a squad in such a crucial encounter has the potential to backfire on the Titans but coach Neil Henry is adamant that the 28-year-old former Eel won't be expected to perform miracles in his much anticipated return.
"We'll wait and see how the game unfolds but hopefully get him in the game before half-time," Henry said.
"His aerobic base is a bit limited on the volume that he's done so it's only natural that he's not going to be up to speed straight away.
"That's why we'll try and limit his time on the field in some regard and get him out there hopefully sometime in the first half.
"He looked pretty good with the ball in hand so we'll keep it simple.
"He's not expected to go out there and run the show. We've got Ash Taylor and 'Cullo' (Cullen) that will be in charge out there and 'Peatsy' (hooker Nathan Peats) is back so it gives us a bit of organisation around the ruck.
"He wouldn't put his hand up to play a game of football if he didn't think he could go out there and hold his own. That's what we're expecting him to do.
"I just want him to link the ball, have a couple of runs and make his tackles. If he gets his job done that will do us.
"At training he looked fine. It wasn't clunky, his timing was good, his passing, he had a couple of runs with the ball, we did some opposed stuff… He's done some defence but it's going to be a big step up in the real thing but it's a game that's crucial to us.
"We need to win it and he needs to play his part."