Cornish earns NRL debut with injury-hit Titans
The mere sniff of an NRL opportunity was enough to lure him to the Gold Coast and now Tyler Cornish will be asked to step into Jarryd Hayne's shoes when he makes his NRL debut at fullback against the Eels at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday night.
Decimated by injuries the Titans have recalled both Dan Sarginson (knee) and William Zillman (calf) into the starting side but both trained predominantly with the rehab group on Tuesday.
Ryan Simpkins has also been named to return after a rib cartilage injury he suffered in the club's final trial against the Warriors a month ago while Karl Lawton has been named in the 21-man squad despite dislocating his shoulder last Saturday against Newcastle.
Desperate to register their first win of the season, the Titans have handed an NRL debut to 22-year-old Cornish who was signed to play with the Burleigh Bears in the Intrust Super Cup this year with the chance to train alongside the Titans in the pre-season.
Last year Cameron Cullen earned an NRL call-up with the Titans whilst playing for Burleigh and it was that possibility that convinced Cornish to agree to move north when he was unable to pick up a full-time contract anywhere in the NRL.
A star in the junior grades coming through the ranks at Canberra and also in the Roosters' under-20s, Cornish appeared destined to join his older brother Mitch in the top grade but had to leave his beloved Roosters to do so.
A member of the New South Wales Origin Pathways program in 2014 that also included the likes of Dylan Walker, Jake Trbojevic, Clint Gutherson, Jack Bird, Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks, Cornish trained all summer with the Titans and made his debut for Burleigh last weekend at halfback against Norths Devils.
He impressed for the Titans in the Downer NRL Auckland Nines and also in their trial match against the Warriors and hooker Tyrone Roberts is confident he can come in and do the job that's required of him.
"He's had a good pre-season. He's fit, he trained at fullback when 'Haynesy' wasn't 100 per cent," Roberts told NRL.com.
"He's got a big role and he's debuting so I'm sure he'll be a target but he's got a cool head.
"He's just got to know his role and do it to the best of his ability.
"He knows everything and knows what his job is this weekend and I'm sure he'll do that."
Given the ankle injury to Hayne is likely to sideline him for at least a month Cornish has the opportunity to cement a place in the team despite not having a full-time contract with the Titans and having played very little fullback throughout his career.
It means another playmaker for halves Ash Taylor and Kane Elgey to work with but Elgey believes Cornish showed enough in the pre-season to be confident of handling the step up to NRL.
"You've seen him over in New Zealand and in the trials he made a name for himself so it's exciting for him," Elgey said.
"He's filled in all pre-season so he's going to be good. It's good that we've got more players coming in on debut, it's exciting."
While the Titans have their own injury concerns their task on Friday night has been made somewhat easier by the withdrawal of star Parramatta halfback Corey Norman.
Elgey said that any injury toll won't be used as an excuse on Friday and that a win however it comes will be the key in building confidence within the team.
"It is what it is and we've just got to work with it and there'll be no excuses on the field on Friday night," Elgey said.
"It's just a shame because you train all pre-season and we're having men drop like flies.
"We're struggling a bit but if we can just get a win on Friday night we can build from there."