Titans restricted by salary cap squeeze
Titans coach Neil Henry admits that he may not be able to select the best 17 players available to him this week as the fall-out from the club's horror injury toll earlier in the season threatens to derail their push for a top eight finish.
On Tuesday Henry named his 21-man squad to face the Panthers at Pepper Stadium on Saturday afternoon with Kane Elgey and Morgan Boyle both named on the extended bench after missing last Saturday's 30-10 win over the Sharks.
Although in their team announcement the Titans stated that Boyle had been "rested" from the win over Cronulla the real reason that the 21-year-old front-rower was unable to play was due to restrictions around Gold Coast's second-tier salary cap.
Already this season the Titans have been forced to use 32 players and with a roster that is now nearing full health players on second-tier contracts such as Boyle cannot be granted special exemptions to play if there are members of the top 25 fit and available in the same position.
Such has been Boyle's development this season that after making his NRL debut in Round 6 he has started in three of the nine games he has played to date but Henry acknowledges that his availability moving forward is now in question.
"There are second tier issues around a few players so the make-up of our side, within the rules, becomes difficult each week and he's one of those players," Henry said of Boyle who played for Tweed Heads last Sunday in the Intrust super Cup.
"It does restrict you picking your best side at times and it certainly restricts some young players being able to play football at the highest level when they possibly deserve it.
"We had seven of our top 25 injured at one stage and we had to use second-tier players early in the season and that is an issue for us like other clubs.
"That's the nature of the beast with other clubs too. It's a fairly archaic rule that we're now all under now and I think all clubs agree that the sooner it goes the better it will be."
Given the extent of their injuries earlier in the season the Titans were granted some second-tier salary cap exemptions in order to pick a team on the park, exemptions that are now less available given the recent returns of Kevin Proctor, Agnatius Paasi and Leivaha Pulu from injury.
"All caps are under the same rules at the moment and they review the exemptions on a week-to-week basis on the availability of your squad," Henry explained.
"I can't argue that we haven't been able to get some because we have and [the NRL] have been very fair with the exemptions that we've had but as we get more players back and fit and ready to play then those exemptions are less and less because they're top-tier players."
For the first time this season Henry has been able to name the same starting 13 for three weeks in succession as they seek a fourth consecutive win in what the coach acknowledges is effectively a 'four-point' game.
With Penrith sitting one win ahead of the Titans and one win outside the top eight Gold Coast will be in danger of losing touch should they go down on Saturday against a Panthers team expecting to have Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace both back in the team.
"We're coming up against a side that's got a bit of momentum after a good win last week," Henry said.
"Trent Merrin is gone and a bit of a leader in their forwards but [Reagan] Campbell-Gillard, [James] Fisher-Harris, they've got a pretty potent pack as well.
"Their outside backs do a good job for them as well so it's going to be a great battle down there.
"They're looking to push towards the top eight and we're looking to hang on as well.
"Parramatta have kicked ahead with that win and the bye so there's a little gap to the the top eight and we can only bridge it by winning games.
"If we drop a couple of games the season won't be there for us."