The Gold Coast Titans Under 20s Holden Cup squad is this season under the direction of Ben Woolf. The 33-year-old former Burleigh Bears player cut his coaching teeth at the highly successful Gold Coast rugby league nursery – Keebra Park State High School. Here he outlines the preparation and expectation of the Titans National Youth Competition (NYC) team in 2014.
Q: How has the pre-season been for the Titans NYC squad?
A: We have played two trials – against Tweed Seagulls and then the Broncos NYC. We play Melbourne this weekend when we will cut the squad down to 20 players. Hopefully we will get Jahrome Hughes back on the field for this game. We will be a bit closer to what we will put out in round one. The first trial was good. We used a lot of our fringe players and they played really well, showing the depth in the squad. In the second trial we started quite slowly, showing the inexperience in the squad. The Broncos blew us off the park. But we responded well in the second half and ended up losing that one 22-14.
Q: What are you hoping for this weekend against the Storm?
A: I am after generally an improved performance. We need to improve around the ruck and in a couple of key areas where we have been practicing. We need a bit more of a composed effort from the boys and overall and a better performance leading into round one.
Q: As far as finals appearances go, the NYC has not been a happy hunting ground for the Titans. How do you hope to change that this year?
A: We are just hoping to build consistency in the way we play. Better efforts defensively and learning how to compete for longer lengths of time. We have been trying to emulate that through training. Hopefully if we have some success there we will be able to compete for the full 80 minutes.
Q: For yourself personally, how have you found the change and the learning curve from schoolboy football to NRL Under 20s?
A: It has been really good. The boys’ attitudes have been great. Their attitude and effort in training has been fantastic. The biggest challenge for me has been not only working with a big squad, but also trying to get the best out of the boys and teaching them to play football for those longer periods of time. Obviously being a lot longer season than a schoolboy comp, playing longer halves there is going to be a lot more injuries and consistency is going to be a lot more crucial.
Q: Keeping younger players switched on for 80 minutes is a big hurdle?
A: Yes, most have not had any experience playing 80-minute football so it is difficult. And often by the time they get that experience they are ready to move up into senior football, so it is hard to keep those experienced heads on the field.
Q: It is early days, but do you see future NRL players in your squad?
A: Yes definitely. There are a couple of guys that are going very well. We have already lost a couple to injury. But yes, I believe there a number that could push through and play NRL.
Q: Are there many locals in this squad?
A: Yes. There are a lot from the Gold Coast region as well as Ipswich and the Brisbane area. Most are from the South East Queensland area.