Titans rookie finds comfort in top grade
The injury toll that decimated the Titans early in the season has finally produced a positive with 20-year-old Max King feeling more and more at home in the top grade.
Highly regarded by his teammates and the Titans coaching staff, King is still eligible for the Holden Cup this year but impressed everyone with his work ethic during the pre-season and positive attitude around the playing group.
A fourth generation first grader, King was thrust into the senior squad to make his debut in Round 3 but after five games he suffered a broken hand that kept him out for six weeks and had the potential to delay his NRL progression.
But rather than get down about the timing of the injury King concentrated on how he could return a better player and will start at lock for the third week in succession when Gold Coast host Cronulla at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday night.
With Chris McQueen (neck) out indefinitely King has been able to secure the No.13 jersey and provide valuable contributions to two victories, the Newcastle junior crediting his stint on the sidelines for feeling more comfortable in open company.
"Coming back I definitely felt a lot calmer," King said of his layoff. "I felt in the early games that I was very adrenaline-pumped and anxious which is normal but it just took a lot of energy out of me on the field.
"Now I feel calm as if I'm playing an under-20s game.
"I feel like I'm calm, relaxed, I'm just playing football and that's definitely saved me a lot of energy.
"I feel like I can go back to playing 40 or 50 minutes. I feel like I've got that in my lungs now whereas first game 10 minutes in I was shot.
"That experience for the first couple of games, having a break from it and then coming back it has slowed everything down and eased my perspective up a bit.
"In the weeks that I have been playing in the NRL I think I've doubled as a player in terms of learning and being around the blokes so it has been such a great experience for me thus far."
In wins over the Wests Tigers and Dragons in the Titans' past two games King has averaged 98.5 metres and 26.5 tackles, well up on his season average of 61 metres and 21 tackles.
He has quickly become something of a favourite of Gold Coast coach Neil Henry who knows that despite the significant progress he has made already, there is still much more to come from King.
"Max has really worked hard for his opportunities," Henry said.
"He's still learning all the time and I think he and Morgan Boyle have really taken it upon themselves to do the best they can each week.
"He's got a tremendous work-rate and he's getting better all the time."
In addition to looking inward for improvement King also used his six-week layoff to add three kilograms to a frame that has grown dramatically after coming through the junior ranks as a hooker.
Now standing 190 centimetres and weighing 104 kilograms, King knows that he will add more weight in the coming year or two but took the opportunity to add a couple of kilograms as his broken hand recovered.
"I told myself that I wanted to come back a better player than what I was before so it wasn't a bad opportunity for me for a couple of weeks not to worry about football," said King. "Just worry about gaining a couple of kilos – I put on two or three more kilos – and getting my body right.
"I'm a massive pasta fan and the boys always get stuck into me about my ham sandwiches.
"I'm a bit lazy when it comes to my preparation. I wake up in the morning and I wouldn't have cooked anything so it's just a ham sandwich. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. I'd probably do five or six a day.
"It's always been hard me to gain so any gain I get I can take it."
King believes in time that his playing weight will get up to near 110kg but concedes with the speed of the modern game that any weight gain can't come at the expense of mobility around the field.
"Weight isn't that much of an issue for me right now, it's just getting all the things right that the coaching staff are after like body position and leaning into tackles and technique," said King, who is playing his 11th game of the season on Saturday.
"There are not too many boys in our squad that creep over that 110 mark and if they are they're generally trying to bring them down.
"The game is getting faster so I don't think it's the be-all and end-all between five kilos.
"There's a lot that goes into it in terms of how long you can last on the field and technique and things."