Titans coach Justin Holbrook believes the NRL Nines offers a unique opportunity for players to launch their season without much pressure and is keen to see how his emerging talents and returning star Ash Taylor handle their first competitive hit-out of 2020.
Holbrook has named an attacking 18-man squad with Taylor among the big names included for the trip west along with Queensland forward Jai Arrow, Tyrone Peachey, Bryce Cartwright, AJ Brimson and veteran winger Anthony Don.
Senior players Tyrone Roberts, Jarrod Wallace, Kevin Proctor and Nathan Peats have been rested for the tournament while centre Brian Kelly was ruled out as he awaits the birth of his first child.
Holbrook, who was an assistant coach at the Sydney Roosters in 2017 when the Nines was last held, said he placed little emphasis on the result but wanted to see how his players translated their training performance into action.
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"It’s just a great opportunity for them to get out and have a game," Holbrook said.
"Once you’re on the field you’re always competitive in sport so I expect the boys to want to win. If they do fantastic, if not it’s not too bad either.
"We’ve had one of the longer pre-seasons out of all the sides so I guess it’s good we can finally get out and have a game, albeit not in the normal format.
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"I just think it’s a good opportunity for the players to have a hit-out with not a lot of pressure on them when they go out and play.
"I think it’s great for guys like Ash or any young guys as well. You will see a lot of clubs play a lot of young guys coming through which suits with only nine on the field not 13 and gives them a taste of what we hope to be a good atmosphere over there.
"There will always be younger players at every club who stand out and make the coaches go, ‘geez he is really in contention [for round one]'."
For Taylor it will be his first top-flight hit-out since August last year when he took time away from the game to concentrate on his mental health.
Holbrook has been impressed with Taylor’s efforts during the pre-season and while the Nines suits the flamboyant nature of the 24-year-old's game, the Titans coach knows the real test will come once the regular season commences.
"There’s not too much pressure on him this weekend but I’ve said a number of times over the last 14 weeks how well he is going at training. He has been fantastic for us and is doing everything in a great manner," Holbrook said.
"It will be good to get him back out on the field and obviously a few more weeks to come when the competition starts is hopefully when we will really see him playing well."
The Titans begin their Nines campaign against last year's NRL grand finalists Canberra on Friday.
Official NRL Travel packages, including NRL Nines tickets, accommodation options and exclusive experiences with NRL Legends can be purchased via www.nrl.com/travel