Jarryd Hayne's leadership role within the Titans looks set to receive a boost this weekend with the superstar fullback in line to lead his team at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park.
Gold Coast coach Neil Henry named a 19-man squad on Monday which he said Ryan James will lead but given his commitments the following weekend and his importance to the Titans in 2017, James shapes as the 19th man who will travel yet not play.
If that occurs Henry said that Hayne and young half Kane Elgey would share the captaincy duties in what will be Hayne's first appearance at the Auckland Nines.
Contracted by promoters Duco Events as an ambassador for the tournament, Hayne's status and style of play will electrify the capacity crowd expected to flood into Eden Park and his leadership role is a positive sign for the season ahead.
Prior to the Christmas break Hayne had been struggling with the demands of his first NRL pre-season in three years but Henry said that he has made significant improvements through the first month of 2017.
"He's been very good. It's not so much attitude it's about putting his body through what's required nowadays," Henry said of Hayne's commitment at training.
"He hasn't been part of that pre-season and the standards are fairly high here so it's about reaching your targets as well.
"It's been tough for him with the amount of running we're doing but as we get into more ballwork that's his forte.
"He's really made an effort to improve in key areas and he has. He's in good shape at the moment and like a lot of the boys they're just looking forward to playing a bit of football now.
"Jarryd being an ambassador for the tournament as well, he's keen to get out there. It will be interesting to see how he goes in the Nines game."
High profile stars Kevin Proctor, Konrad Hurrell and Dan Sarginson all would have played the Nines if not for injury while Ashley Taylor and Nathan Peats were not selected given their upcoming commitments with the Indigenous All Stars team.
Players who will be making their senior debuts for the Titans in Auckland include winger Daniel Vidot, former Knights prop Paterika Vaivai, youngsters such as Max King, Morgan Boyle, Alexander Brimson and Tyronne Roberts-Davies along with players trialling for full-time contracts in Pat Politoni, Tyler Cornish and Hayden Schwass.
Agnatius Paasi, who took the Nines by storm last year and was named in the Team of the Tournament, is another notable absentee as he continues his recovery from a shoulder reconstruction that is likely to keep him out until Round 3 of the Telstra Premiership.
Henry admitted that the style of the Nines tournament makes coaches nervous about taking their best players but is excited by the opportunity it affords players on the cusp of NRL selection.
"You do get a little bit nervous about some of your key players but that's just how it is," said Henry, who took the Titans to the semi-finals at last year's tournament.
"These are a couple of our promising 20s that have come up to show that they can handle that sort of training and it's a good opportunity for them to get over there and experience the whole carnival.
"It doesn't suit everyone and coaches are all in the same boat. You're a little bit nervous about the style of play you have over there but we're a lot better at conditioning the team to be ready to play that sort of tournament.
"The first year it came in we saw a lot of injuries but I think we're managing that a lot better now.
"They have made the squads a bit bigger too so you can cater for that.
"It's a great atmosphere, it's a great tournament, obviously there is prizemoney on offer as well which is attractive to the players and the clubs but we take it for what it is."
This article first appeared on NRL.com