Departing Gold Coast Titans skipper Nathan Friend has anointed Ryan James as the man to lead the club forward in 2017 and the rugged front-rower says he is now ready to take on a greater leadership role.
Friend has been credited by coach Neil Henry for helping to instil a hard-working culture at the Titans again but as the 35-year-old prepares for the next phase of his life new leaders are needed to step forward.
A Gold Coast junior, James has been considered a future leader at the club for the past couple of years and Friend is confident that he is now at a stage in his career where he can inspire others to follow him into battle.
"I'm sure there are a few that will take the mantle. There are a lot of the older guys who are certainly capable," Friend told NRL.com.
"You've got Ryan James. He's a young guy but he's got all the character attributes to certainly lead this team."
One of the standouts in pre-season training, James captained the Titans a couple of times this season and having played every game for the first time in his career is ready to step up into a leadership role.
"Hundred per cent, I'd love to step into that role," James said.
"I ended up being able to do it a couple of times this year so just have to make sure I have a good pre-season and get the body right in the next couple of weeks and get ready to rip in.
"I still look up to Greg [Bird] and look to him on the field to see what to do and he's one of those guys that I really respect.
"Maybe it's just getting that respect of others and people looking for you to maybe do something and be able to be that voice of reckoning.
"If I can be that type of player that would be great."
In the aftermath of his team's Elimination Final loss to the Broncos on Friday night Henry paid tribute to the example set by players such as Friend and challenged the playing group that will go into the 2017 season to uphold the standards that have been set.
"Senior guys who have come back to the club like Nathan, they've shown what you need to do week in and week out to be competitive," Henry said.
"A lot of that is to do with not what's on the field but how you train and how you prepare and how you look after yourself to be at your best for the team and they've bought that to the club.
"We need to build off that. That needs to be a legacy moving forward, that this club does things that way. If we can do that we set the Coast up for a competitive team.
"The fans have voted with their feet on games at the back-end of the season where they want to see a competitive team. They want a winning team but they want to see a gritty team and a team that they can be proud of supporting and I know that we've provided that this year and our challenge is to build on that next year."
The great challenge for the Titans will be to replicate the spirit that they have displayed this season next year, a spirit Friend says the strength and conditioning staff headed by Matt Ford and the Army leadership camp last November deserve credit for.
"It's about being a team that appreciates each other. You don't have to complicate it or over-think it, you just have to play your role and if you're required to do something then you do it," Friend said.
"It all starts in the off-season and 'Fordy' did a great job. We went on a camp as well which was a really good team-building camp. It wasn't one where you just go and get flogged, it was a really good team bonding session and all season Fordy has got it right, getting us physically and mentally ready for the game."
As for going out in front of more than 43,000 fans at the hands of the club where his NRL career began in 2002, Friend says that while short of a fairytale, it allows him to leave the game content with what he has achieved.
"You always want to do better and this is not the grand final but it is a final and I've got to be appreciative of that," Friend said.
"I look back on my 15 years and I'm so happy that I've been able to get that many years out."
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