Season 2015 could be one of great opportunity for the Gold Coast Titans squad with several players from this season moving on and coach Neil Henry looking for young players prepared to show how much they want a place in the NRL.
Monday November 3 was the ‘return to work’ day for the Titans regulars who know that, through to February, life is one of grinding daily physical challenges where the mind is conditioned as much and the body and each little extra test is an experience that may not show its benefit until the 79th minute of a key game nine months down the track.
For three of the Titans under-20s of 2014 it was the start of a window of opportunity in their league careers that could leave a valuable impression on their lives as well as the coaching staff that will observe their every move.
Holden Cup player of the year Kane Elgey, and centres Connor Broadhurst and Shaun Hudson, all had a substantial change of lifestyle this week when they joined the full-time NRL squad.
It was an introduction to the attitudes and routines of players they are determined to emulate, and also a massive change of lifestyle for the trio who have had to juggle training and playing in the under-20s with work or study.
They each represent different situations but with the same motivation – take the opportunity of the next few weeks to provide a pathway to a possible NRL career.
Elgey and Broadhurst came to that crossroad that so many of Holden Cup players face in that they are too old to play in the competition after three seasons and had to confront what was next.
Elgey, 20, has since secured a one-year NRL contract. So until the end of next season at least he will live the life of a full-time footballer for the first time even though, like his former Australian Schoolboys teammate Jamal Fogarty this year, his playing time might be spent almost exclusively with Tweed Heads Seagulls in the Intrust Super Cup.
Centre Broadhurst, who shuffled university study (Bachelor of Exercise Science, specialising in physiotherapy) and early shifts at Zaraffas serving coffee, has been given a standard seven week ‘train and trial’ contract which means he will do all the sessions with the NRL squad until the Christmas break and then be told whether he’ll be kept in the squad in the lead-up to the season.
Utility back Hudson, who is eligible for another season in the under-20s, is being given the opportunity to do some sessions with the NRL boys over the next seven weeks and benefit from an insight into their life. He has been studying a Bachelor of Education degree at Griffith University.
“It’s obviously a big step up, and the body is telling me that,” said Hudson, who this time last year was in rehab after an ACL injury. “I’ve learned a lot already and the senior players have been real welcoming.
“It certainly builds confidence to be able to train with them and that the club felt I was worthy of being in the training squad. Hopefully I can take that confidence and leadership back to the 20s.”
Broadhurst, who grew up at Blackwater – the town that produced ‘Coal Train’ David Taylor – and debuted in the under 20s with Parramatta before joining the Titans in 2014, is determined to ensure he is still in the running for a first grade trial appearance at least come February.
He admits being anxious when the competition rounds had finished this season and his future was uncertain, but soon after was told he was being given a chance to impress in the pre-season. It’s a window of opportunity; his dream stays very much alive but the onus is now up to him.
Already his weekly life has changed dramatically. He had his last 5.30am shift at Zaraffas last week and next week finishes his last university assignment. Until Christmas at least, he can concentrate on the lifestyle of a full-time footballer.
“Obviously I want to play NRL and I was just hoping to get an opportunity,” he says. “I had a meeting with Neil Henry a couple of weeks after the season ended and he has get an opportunity to train and secure a spot.
“It means so much to be part of the full-time squad and get to know the coaches and the players; just to know you’re being considered gives you the feeling you’re a chance of getting there.
“The first few days has been a massive step up from 20s. I think it will do wonders for things like my weight, strength and fitness and even if I do go back to ‘Q Cup’ it will give me a real head start.”
The brotherhood between the established NRL stars and the youngsters has been evident. They have encouraged them with a quite word, or a “keep going” tap on the back or just a chat during the breaks, asking the boys about themselves and handing on valuable tips.
“What’s impressed me has been the culture,” says Elgey, who admits he could feel the soreness in his legs just driving his car after two days of training. “Everyone gets together if someone is struggling at the back someone will lift them with their voice and encouragement.
“We were doing steps and someone did an extra lap just to bring them up and that sort of culture is the best thing about it.
“Aiden Sezer always comes over and helps me, and we worked on the same exercises together in the chamber. I really look up to him. And Dan Mortimer is so fit, that really gives me an idea of what to aspire to.”
Elgey had an eventful end to the season, firstly making the Holden Cup team of the year, the winning the player of the year at the Dally M awards, and the same week the Titans under-20s players’ player title.
But he knows that gives his no extra advantages now he’s playing in open age rugby league with his career perhaps pending on the next season.
“I can’t dwell too much on that [the awards]; I just have to put it behind me and make the most of what’s in front of me,” said the clever halfback. “I just want to have a good pre-season and get as fit as I can and learn as much as I can and go back to Tweed Seagulls and bring the confidence and what I’ve learning from being in the NRL squad back there and showing the benefit from it.”
His halves partner of 2014, Christian Hazard, had his first experience of full-time NRL training last year and impressed in the trial match against the Warriors in Auckland before an ankle injury brought him undone and he struggled with it most of the season.
What advice does he have for his mates now entering the new world he encountered last November?
It’s what I might have next year but the end of the season was good to me. Starting at 7am, landscaping for nine months getting up at 4-4.30pm.
Still thinking about TAFE and something in the marine industry. Recovery of knee good, glucose shot next week.
“Just be ready to take any opportunity with both hands,” he said. “They know they’re in the picture and you never know what can happen with inquiries in the squad that can open a door for you. You have to be prepared for it and take it when it comes.
“It opened my eyes up to what is required to become an NRL player and to see the one-percenters that the other boys recognised as being so important. My fitness improved a lot and so did my confidence but unfortunately I got the injury in Auckland.”