Gold Coast will have to place enormous pressure on Mitch Rein playing 80 minutes or close to a full game each week as they face up to six rounds without Nathan Peats for a critical stretch of their season.
The NSW hooker is expected to be out for at least a month because of a rib cartilage injury, and while Rein will slot straight into the starting position, the Titans are left without cover after releasing utility Karl Lawton to the Warriors a week before the start of the Telstra Premiership.
Coach Garth Brennan will take on the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday with no suitable rotation partner for Rein or elevate back-rower Ryan Simpkins into the his game-day squad.
Simpkins has only 15 minutes of NRL action, and one match in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup, under his belt in 2018 and he has played a handful of games as dummy-half under Neil Henry in 2016-17.
Last season Neil Henry had Peats, who played 15 of the Titans’ 24 games, Lawton and Pat Politoni as experienced hookers. Politoni can be called on from feeder team Burleigh Bears where he has been in fine form, but Brennan is hinting at making do with bit-parts from back-rowers.
The Titans take on the Cowboys, then Cronulla at home, Canberra away and Melbourne away in the next month, also a key time for NSW hooker Peats as he tries to fight off pressure from Dragons rake Cameron McInnes who has been in sensational form. Origin teams will be chosen after round 12, which gives Peats two games, if he can return in a month, to save his Blues jersey.
“Hopefully we will get him back earlier than that, mostly it’s a pain threshold [issue] now and as everyone knows Peatsy a fairly fierce competitor,” said Brennan, who has also lost centre Dale Copley for three to four weeks.
“That’s on the outside, the four to six weeks’ time frame. But it is what it is and hopefully we can get him back sooner.
“Reiny will play nine. Whether he plays the 80 minutes or not we will see as the game goes on.
“Maybe we have to carry someone on the bench that can cover that role, like a Ryan Simpkins, or decide whether I’ve already got someone in my squad that, if something happened and I need to put someone on, I can use them.
“There is a bit of flexibility in the squad with someone able to hop in there if we need to give Reiny a spell or if he had an injury but I’ll look at that as the week comes on.”
However, only Simpkins or Bryce Cartwright appear to have the pass to cover at dummy-half.
Peats has been in fine form, winning the team’s player of the match award against Manly in round five, and running far more from dummy half than in previous seasons, which was seen as the one downfall of his game.
“Peatsy hasn’t mentioned Origin at all; he’s focused on the Gold Coast Titans and he is passionate about the Titans and he wears his heart on his sleeve,” Brennan said.
“He knows he needs to perform at the Gold Coast first. I think he has. He he was unhappy with his round one performance but since he has been going better and better each week since; he got my player of the match in the game against Manly.
“He’s a quality player and I don’t think he’s getting too caught up with Origin talk. A lot can happen between now and when Freddy [Brad Fittler] pick his team.”
Sami will come in from the left wing to left centre for the in-form Copley with fellow 20-year-old Tyronne Roberts-Davis coming into the side outside him.