Hard-hitting Gold Coast forward Jai Whitbread has earned high praise from one of the hardest tacklers in rugby league history.
Titans defensive coach Trevor Gillmeister was a feared defender in the late 80s' and early 90s, earning the very apt nickname of 'Axe'.
He is a big fan of Whitbread, whose brutal and fearless tackling style has drawn comparisons with Gillmeister.
“It’s easier working with blokes when you can see a bit of yourself in them and with a similar technique,” Gillmeister told NRL.com.
"He had a pretty good technique before I went down there so it was just about fine-tuning it a bit more. He’s the one that’s put all the hard work in.
“When they were doing the opposed sessions he was getting into big Shannon Boyd’s thighs and Shannon said to me, ‘Will you stop teaching him how to get into my thighs.’
“If anything, he’s got a similar technique to me when he gets a bit tired in that he goes down the tackle instead of through the tackle.
“The best thing about Jai is that he’s so keen to learn. I think he’s got a huge career ahead of him because he’s so professional. He does everything right, he’s a good teammate and he’s got a good attitude.”
With Queensland representative Jai Arrow facing a further six weeks on the sideline with an ankle injury Whitbread will be given every to cement a spot in Garth Brennan’s 17.
This week’s assignment is about as tough as it gets, facing a Manly forward pack boasting Martin Taupau, Addin Fonua-Blake and Jake Trbojevic.
The Titans got the better of the Sea Eagles at Lottoland in round 11 but the return from injury of Tom Trbojevic – not to mention his stunning Origin display last Sunday – makes the job of Gold Coast's middles even more important on Saturday.
"There were a few times where they rolled through us so we'll definitely have to be a lot cleaner there and a lot tidier but overall I think we handled them pretty well,” Whitbread said of their clash a month ago.
“With [Tom] Trbojevic back he's going to be pushing around the middle so we're going to have to stop the offloads and stop their go-forward pretty early.”
As for his throwback tackling style, Whitbread is happy to be mentioned in the same sentence as Gillmeister.
"I just developed it as a habit as a young kid and it's stuck with me,” explained Whitbread, whose father Greg played against Gillmeister in the late ‘80s.
"In this day and age you're taught to go high and wrap the ball up before blokes can offload so sometimes they don't expect it.
"I have done a bit with Gilly and he's helped me a lot. He's a big believer in tackling through the hips and that lower style of defence. I think he's a fan.”
According to Gillmeister, Whitbread’s style is one more players should adopt and one the NRL should find ways to reward.
“These blokes do all these weights but they don’t use their legs when they’re tackling,” Gillmeister says.
“If you use your legs more you won’t get as fatigued because you won’t have to wrestle as much.
“The problem nowadays that if you knock someone down to the ground quickly with a shot into the thighs or even the ribs, the referees are telling them to release and get off them as soon as they hit the ground.
“A lot of the good low tacklers don’t get rewarded as much but it’s getting a bit better.
“Hopefully Jai stays injury free and gets a long career out of it.”