GUN halfback Ash Taylor will be missing from the Gold Coast team lining up against his former Brisbane teammates in his home town of Toowoomba this Saturday night – but Darling Downs footy fans will get the chance to see his younger cousin in NRL company for the first time.
Kiah Cooper, a 20-year-old recruit from the Sydney Roosters, has been named in the Titans starting back-line alongside fellow newcomers Brendan Elliot and Brenko Lee.
“Cooper grew up at Dirranbandi, 70km south of St George where (Ash) Taylor spent his formative years, before moving to Newcastle at age seven and coming through the renowned Wests Newcastle club,” coach Garth Brennan said.
Bryce Cartwright will make his first appearance as a Titan at lock, the position he is expected to secure for the season opening home NRL clash versus Canberra on Saturday, March 10.
Fellow Panthers recruit Leilani Latu and former Bronco Jai Whitbread have been named as the two starting props this weekend.
Brennan has elected to rest key players Taylor, Ryan James, Michael Gordon, Nathan Peats, Konrad Hurrell, Jai Arrow and Will Matthews.
With Taylor missing (he will play in a near full-strength side against the Warriors next weekend), Brennan admits Saturday’s trial is an early opportunity for the club’s 2015 rookie of the year Kane Elgey to regain confidence and authority after a lost 2016 (ACL injury) and disappointing 2017.
“It’s a chance for Kane to play in the halves and steer us around a bit and it probably puts pressure on him to take control of the football team,” he said.
“He belongs there and just needs to take ownership of the team.
“It’s probably our depth that is going to play this weekend and I’m excited about seeing some of these young guys play and show us what they’ve got.”
Brennan is also expecting determined performances from some of the more established newcomers who will have their first hit-out in Titans jerseys.
“It’s important for some of them to get out and play some football; some have come into our system late so it’s a good chance to get used to some of the structures we want to play,” he said.
Kevin Proctor, Anthony Don, Ryan Simpkins, Mitch Rein, Morgan Boyle and Jack Stockwell were unavailable through injury and Jarrod Wallace due to suspension.
However, Brennan’s men will take on a similar-strength Broncos squad with plenty of NRL experience and strike-power through Cartwright, Leilani, Kane Elgey, Lee, Dale Copley, Karl Lawton and English international back-rower Joe Greenwood.
Promising 2017 rookies Max King, Phillip Sami, Tyronne Roberts-Davis, Keegan Hipgrave, Cooper, Whitfield (20), halfback AJ Brimson (19) and Moeaki Fotuaiki (18) will also give Titans fans a glimpse of what could be a promising future.
Brimson, who will be a strong back-up to Elgey and Taylor this year, is a player to watch as is big prop Fotuaika.
Both youngsters are rags to riches stories since being identified by the Titans.
Brimson could not get a look in the top team while at Keebra Park High School in 2015-16, and at one stage was in their thirds.
In 2016 he was Mal Meninga Cup (Queensland under-19s) player of the year then in his first full season in under-20s was chosen in the Holden Cup team of the year as five-eighth and was also joint Titans Holden Cup player of the year with Fotuaki.
Fotuaika had to play off the bench at Keebra Park behind Broncos boom prop Payne Haas and Wests Tigers’ Tom Mikaele, both Australian Schoolboys selections.
Last year Fotuaika arrived at a Titans under-20s open trial as a relatively unknown prospect.
After being the best player that day, he went onto play 22 games for the Titans in Holden Cup, was chosen for the Junior Kiwis, won the player of the year award with Brimson.
He then picked up a four-year contract extension (he currently is a development player, training sometimes with the fulltime squad) shortly after his 18th birthday – and has wowed insiders with his pre-season feats since.
In addition, Brennan has also included several second-tier players from the club’s feeder teams Burleigh Bears and Tweed Heads Seagulls in the 23-man squad, including last year’s NRL debutant Jamal Fogarty and former Cowboys and Sea Eagles player Blake Leary, a Gold Coast junior who has signed with Burleigh.
Titans squad to play Brisbane Broncos at Clive Berghofer Stadium 6.30pm (Qld time):
1. Brendan Elliot
2. Tyronne Roberts-Davis
3. Kiah Cooper
4. Brenko Lee
5. Phillip Sami
6. Kane Elgey
7. Alexander Brimson
8. Leilani Latu
9. Karl Lawton
10. Jai Whitbread
11. Joe Greenwood
12. Keegan Hipgrave
13. Bryce Cartwright
14. Dale Copley
15. Tony Matautia
16. Moeaki Fotuaika
17. Max King
18. Apiata Noema
19. Jamal Fogarty
20. Blake Leary
21. Cheyne Whitlaw
22. Chris Law
23. Justin Tavae