David Mead and Daniel Mortimer are just two players looking forward to seeing some of the Aquis Titans’ new players show their wares in the Auckland Nines on February 6-7.
Coach Neil Henry is yet to settle on the squad to open the season during the gala weekend but one thing is for sure, there will be plenty of recruits and most likely a lot of youth.
Mortimer would never have thought that when he joined the Titans for round 15 of 2014, after a mid-season switch from Sydney Roosters, that only seven players who were here to greet him would still be with the club in 2016.
Yet that is the fact as a largely changed squad under coaching staff that has only Neil Henry (then John Cartwright’s assistant) remaining takes a team to the Nines as the 2016 playing starting point. The seven survivors are Greg Bird, Ryan James, William Zillman, Anthony Don, Luke Douglas, Matt Srama and Mead.
In their place are the likes of Nene Macdonald, Ash Taylor, Tyrone Roberts, Zeb Taia, under-20s players training in contention for the Nines in Brian Kelly (pictured) and Greg Leleisiuao, plus triallist Shannon Walker who, when he made the first of his four NRL appearances for the Titans in 2008, was hailed the fastest man in rugby league.
All are in the running for the Titans’ Nines squad, most likely announced this Friday, which could include seven or more debutants.
“I love the Nines and I hope I get a chance to play. I really enjoyed last year, it’s a huge weekend and I would be very excited to go over there again,” said Mortimer.
“I had my first experience of it last year and it was great, it’s the only time you get all 16 NRL clubs competing in the same place and there is a real buzz in the city.
“There are a lot of young boys in our squad who I’m sure Neil might like to blood but it’s an opportunity for all of us to put our best foot forward.
“It’s a great opportunity to get some confidence and work on combinations with so many new players here now.
“I think Brian Kelly and Shannon Walker could be two players to look for if they are in the team. They’re both pretty quick and good on their feet.”
Mead, who played well in last year’s second Nines tournament and is lining up for his third tilt at the modified game, is also looking forward to the first hit out in Auckland.
“It’s been a long pre-season since the start of November and it will be good when the Nines come around which is now the traditional start of the season,” he said.
“We have some exciting young guys and I’m looking forward to seeing how they go.
“I feel good about this team. We have young exciting players in Ash [Taylor] and Tyrone [Roberts] building a good combination with Kane [Elgey] out injured and they are high quality players in my opinion.
“Brian Kelly is an exciting young talent; it’s hard to believe he has another year in the 20s, with the way he approached training.
“He has had a really good pre-season. He moves really well with the footy in his hand; he’s unpredictable and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”