Young guns put forward pack on notice with big seasons

Gold Coast’s whopping injury toll during 2019 has left the Club in good shape for next season, with some of the Titans rookie players graduating into senior members of the playing group.

Long-term injuries to key forwards Ryan James, Shannon Boyd and Keegan Hipgrave last season meant the Titans had to rely heavily on inexperienced forwards like 19-year-old Moeaki Fotuaika and 21-year-old Jai Whitbread.

Whitbread had one game under his belt last pre-season. He now starts preparations for the 2020 campaign with 19 games to his credit, as well as the Titans’ Rookie of the Year Award.

Despite completing only his second year in the NRL, Fotuaika now has 37 games of experience behind him, and he is still a teenager.

Fotuaika has also emerged as a forward leader, playing through the agony of a broken wrist, torn meniscus in his knee and syndesmosis injury in his ankle to win the Paul Broughton Medal as the Titans 2019 Player of the Year.

Backrower Bryce Cartwright said the emergence of Fotuaika and Whitbread as established NRL players, and the return of the Club’s injured stars will increase competition for spots in their forward pack under new coach Justin Holbrook.

“We lost a lot of experience there during the year, but in saying that, a few of the young boys probably got more minutes than they would have,” Cartwright said. “Guys like Moe and Jai Whitbread I thought had an outstanding year.

“Those guys probably wouldn’t have as many minutes as they had to play (were it not for the injuries). Moe has had to have two surgeries on account of playing all those minutes and how hard he played. It is guys like those that are going to put the club in good stead.”

After spending time at five-eighth, lock and second-row during 2019, Cartwright still sees his playing future under Holbrook as an edge forward.

And despite improved performances last season, Cartwright says he is still “a mile away” from the level he wants to play at with the Titans.

“Definitely in the backrow, on the edge,” he said about his preferred playing position. “I just need to work hard in the pre-season and come back in some good shape and just keep improving.

“I thought I improved a fair bit this year, but still a mile away from where I should be.

“I am just going to keep working hard and come back in good shape and put my best foot forward each day.”

Cartwright said there was an air of excitement among the playing group about the arrival of Holbrook and new Senior Assistant Coach Jim Dymock.

“Everyone is already really excited. I think everyone is jumping at the chance to get back here and kick off a new year already and to meet the new coach as well,” he said.

“Not just myself but a lot of other boys here play an attacking brand of footy, so it is going to be exciting to see what (Holbrook) brings.

“Not too many of us know him, so it is going to be exciting. Everyone is starting fresh, and everyone is looking forward to it.”