Blair to reach NRL century

THE club’s injury crisis is the worst in the club’s history according to those who have been around the Titans for a long time.

Going into tomorrow’s game with the Warriors there are 16 players missing (including the suspended Luke Douglas and Albert Kelly) from the squad of 36 first and second tier players, with 10 of them forwards.

But coach Neil Henry is adamant the team will not use that as an excuse in the finals rounds of the season with enough players of NRL experience and talented players keen to establish themselves, still to choose from.

How this for a handy NRL team, chosen from the absentees who are currently out of action (and many were ruled our for the season a month ago or so): Kevin Gordon, Brad Tighe, David Taylor, Siuatonga Likiliki, Jamie Dowling, Beau Henry, Albert Kelly, Luke Bailey, Matt Srama, Luke Douglas, Ryan James, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Caleb Binge, Ben Ridge, Matthew Beddow, Christian Hazard.

 

TITANS utility player Maurice Blair is the set to become the next player to reach a milestone this season if plays his 100th NRL game at Mt Smart Stadium against the Warriors tomorrow – the place where he played his first top grade match, for the Panthers in 2007.

The 29-year-old Maryborough junior, known to all and sundry as ‘Bobby’, had his first three NRL seasons with the Panthers, where he played for the Prime Minister’s XIII in 2008, before switching to the Melbourne Storm under Craig Bellamy where he played finals football.

Steve Michaels has been added to the travelling squad and coach Neil Henry will decide between Blair and Michaels for a bench spot, with regular centre-winger Michaels a chance of playing in the back row.

 

TALKING about milestones, what about the freakish coincidence surrounding close mates Mark Minichiello and Luke Bailey.

The last remaining foundation players reached their 150 club-games milestone on the same date and same round a year apart. ‘Mini’ reached the mark in round 24 last year on August 24 against the Warriors while ‘Bails’ hit the mark in round 24 on August 24 this season against the Dragons.

Both are among the elite list of players to have played more than 100 games with two clubs – Minichiello with South Sydney and Gold Coast and Bailey with St George Illawarra and Gold Coast.

 

BACK-ROWER Cody Nelson will not be with the Titans next season after signing a two-season contract with the Parramatta Eels.

Nelson, who made his long awaited debut with the Titans this season at age 25 after being held back by major injury for four seasons, will get a top 25 spot with the Eels and while it is sad to see him leave the club due to being unable to offer him a full-time top tier deal at this stage, it is good recognition for the likeable Nelson after determined hard work in the past few years.

 

JUST a correction of the misinformation about the Titans’ salary cap spend that emanated from a Sydney newspaper report and seems to have grown legs despite no one in the media checking it.

It is being reported that the Titans are not able to spend up to the salary cap. This is incorrect; the club spends the allowable $5.5 million like any other club, so I don’t know where that perception began.

 

THE side travelled to Auckland a day earlier than usual (two days before the match) to settled into the cooler Auckland climate and get used to a different time zone. They arrived Friday and will train at the Mt Albert Grammar School which has produced many rugby union and rugby league internationals over the years.

James Roberts overcame the hip problem he suffered at training on Thursday and will play, but Luke Bailey’s withdrawal with a next injury leaves the team with just two specialist props in Matthew White and Mark Ioane which means back-rowers will have to step forward and Brad Takairangi and Maurice Blair will have to play in the forwards.

Ioane – pronounced by the way as You-wung-gee – returns to the place of his birth and where his juniors days began at Otahuhu and will have plenty of family at the match, as will Wellington born Kalifa Faifai Loa.

The following squad travelled to Auckland: William Zillman, Kalifa Faifai Loa, David Mead, James Roberts, Anthony Don, Aidan Sezer, Daniel Mortimer, Mark Ioane, Beau Falloon, Matthew White, Mark Minichiello, Greg Bird (capt), Paul Carter, Brad Takairangi, Cody Nelson, Tom Kingston, Maurice Blair, Steve Michaels.