iSelect Titans coach John Cartwright’s says elevating players for their NRL debuts is one of the most satisfying experiences of coaching, as is introducing new players to the side for the first time.
He gets to taste both tonight when his team takes on Melbourne Storm with forward Caleb Binge (20), and exciting outside back James Robert (21), cousins and house-mates, run out in Titans jerseys in the NRL for the first time.
Alongside them will be Ashley Harrison who has stepped up to help a side without three back-rowers (Origin reps Greg Bird and Dave Taylor and the club-suspended Paul Carter) and returned earlier than expected from a broken neck.
Binge, who impressed during two seasons with our under-20s but began the season late because of injury, has worked hard to earn his debut.
“He has lost 13kg this year since the start of pre-season training; he has totally transformed himself and worked hard and certainly deserves his chance,” said Cartwright.
“He’s a bloke who I always thought had a future in first grade strictly on his attitude. He’s a similar player to Paul Carter, very aggressive and doesn’t take a backward step. He doesn’t care for reputations and that’s what you look for from guys who haven’t played NRL.”
Roberts, a signing from Penrith, has had limited opportunities to dominate during his four games with the in-form Tweed Seagulls but has scored a couple of brilliant tries and shown his undoubted class and speed.
“His tackle breaks are very high and that’s something we have lacking, tackle-breakers and genuine speed,” said Cartwright. “We’re not expecting for him to go out there and do anything brilliant but if he can make his tackles and make his few tackle breaks a game and threaten the opposition he would have done his job.”
Harrison was declared a certain starter at Sunday’s training session and is looking forward to stabilising the team with his workload in tight. “He will be in some discomfort and he probably should have had a couple of more weeks off,” said Cartwright, “but there was no way talking him out of playing and once the surgeon gave him the all clear he was going to play.”
Said Harrison: “When Dave Taylor was called up to the Queensland side on Wednesday I asked the doctor Paul Ohmsen if I could try to prove my fitness for the Storm game. Carty was supportive if I could get the medical clearance and as it turned out the doc checked over the scans with a specialist and he seemed to think I'd be fine.
"The team is under the pump with Paul Carter now out too so I just wanted to put up my hand and help out; it's a crucial game for us.
"The spirit in the side is tremendous, and we've got some young blokes keen to take their opportunities, so I'm looking forward to getting out there and doing what I can."
Both teams are understrength tonight with Melbourne without Origin players Cameron Smith, Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater and their injured general Cooper Cronk while the Titans are missing halves Aidan Sezer and Albert Kelly, co-captains Greg Bird and Nate Myles, and the in-form Taylor.
However, there is still plenty of class, aggression and experience on show. The Storm have four Kiwi international in their side in Tohu Harris, Jessie Bromwich, Ben Roberts and Kevin Proctor, and a Country Origin rep in skipper Ryan Hinchcliffe.
It’s a crucial match for both side who are on 14 competition points and needing victory to stay in touch with the top eight.
The Titans’ 17: William Zillman (capt), Kevin Gordon, Brad Tighe, Brad Takairangi, David Mead, Maurice Blair, Beau Henry, Luke Bailey, Beau Falloon, Luke Douglas, Mark Minichiello, Ben Ridge, Ashley Harrison, Matthew White, Caleb Binge, James Roberts, Matt Srama.