Gold Coast Titans new signing Bryce Cartwright admits not only did he have to leave the Penrith Panthers to achieve his potential as a footballer, he would be happy never to wear the No.6 jersey again.
Shortly before fronting a big media contingent after his first training session at Parkwood on Friday morning, the 23-year-old slotted straight into a roving-style lock position during a field session and did not hide the fact that’s where he’d like his future to be.
He admitted the deal “happened quickly” last week and he had spoken with new Titans coach Garth Brennan as far back as October about a change of scenery and linking with his teenage mentor was the “driving factor” of his shock defection from the Panthers where the family name is iconic.
But getting out of the Sydney "bubble" as a young father after a year to forget in 2017 due to injury and off-field issues, and getting more minutes as a run-on forward after appearing to be relegated to an all-sorts utility player at Penrith, combined to become an irresistible enticement ... of course, along with a rich four-year deal.
“Garth and I have always kept in touch and I spoke to him in October and he mentioned it [a switch] to me and didn’t think too much about it,” Cartwright said.
“But as time went on, I thought it about it more and thought it was a great opportunity to improve as a player and get out of my comfort zone. Come up here for a fresh start with my family.
“As a player and a person I think I can really improve here. It was getting closer to the start of the season and I thought if I’m staying here I won’t get as much time on the field [as he wanted].
"If I was to improve as a player this [Gold Coast] was the best place to do it. But I am going to have to work hard to break into the team here.
“I was playing in the halves [at Penrith] and that is somewhere I don’t want to play, I feel I am better suited in the forward or on the edge.
“I prefer lock, especially with the way Brenno plays. He likes to give his lock a free rein and not restrict him to an edge; pretty much floating around the field. I trained there today and will probably have a run in the [edge] back row as well.
“The biggest thing about Garth that I love is that he is really passionate about his players and his footy and is the type of coach you want to play for, and fight for, and I can’t speak highly enough of him. I played my best footy under him.”
Cartwright, who played almost every minute of Penrith’s 26 games in 2016 before struggling to make an impact in his 14 appearances at five-eighth or from the bench (eight games) last season, dismissed suggestions he had any issues with Panthers coach Anthony Griffin.
“I had a great relationship with Hook. He is a straight-up guy and really honest … he gave me a ring when all this happened and wished me the best,” he said.
And after Penrith boss Phil Gould was initially “upset” when he approached him to discuss a release, he was “fine with it”.
“He thought it was good for me to get out of Sydney and have a fresh start, he was also upset too," Cartwright said.
“I signed my first contract when I was 15 … so it was upsetting but he said to me he thought it was the right move, so it was good we could sort something out.”
Cartwright revealed he has had a long affinity with the Gold Coast, spending summer holidays there since a toddler visiting the family of Panthers legend and Titans inaugural coach John Cartwright. Ironically, cousin Jed Cartwright (John’s son) – who was at one stage being groomed as a likely Titans back-rower, did the move in reverse 15 months ago and won an Intrust Super Premiership title in 2017.
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It is the family support, Cartwright declares, that has led to him arriving at the Titans in what Brennan claims in a “good space”.
“It has been really tough but I have a good support system around me,” Cartwright said.
“I have the best mum and dad, great younger brother, and beautiful partner (Shanelle Peeti) and a son (Koa) born five weeks ago. They kept me calm; it was a tough 12 months but, in a way, it was a good experience knowing I have people around me who care about me.”
Bryce’s father David Cartwright and brothers Cliff, John (a Test forward) and Michael all played first grade for the Panthers while his grandfather Merv was the club’s first secretary and the driving force behind their admission into the top league in 1967.