Neil Cadigan

Despite most of the Titans squad having their final weekend of rest before the Telstra Premiership begins, the Ben Campbell Building Group Tweed Head Seagulls will field four players with NRL experience in their Intrust Super Cup opener against PNG Hunters at Piggabeen Sports Complex on Sunday (2.05pm kick-off).

And two little-known, but exciting youngsters who are in the Titans system, bolster that experience to give coach Ben Woolf a strong outfit to start his 2019 campaign.

New co-captain John Palavi (Warriors), fellow Kiwi Lamar Liolevave (Wests Tigers) who offers a powerful option with his switch from edge forward to centre, halfback Ryles Jacks (Storm) and prop Leilani Latu (Panthers and Titans) provide a solid base of experience for the Seagulls while last year’s skipper Cheyne Whitelaw (expected back in round 4) continues his recover from an ACL injury and key signing Christian Hazard (elbow injury picked up playing for the Titans in a trial match) is sidelined for a month.

But it is the up-and-coming talent that has excited Woolf. Ipswich product Treymain Spry, the 19-year-old who has just picked up a two-year contract with the Titans, will debut for the Gullies in the centres with fellow Titans development player Ioane Seiuli, also 19, on the wing.

Back-rower Kurtis Dark, 20, who picked up the coach’s award last year in the Newcastle Knights under-20s (Jersey Flegg) side, is another Seagulls newcomer along with halfback Luke Jurd who played in Cronulla’s premiership-winning Jersey Flegg side in 2018.

Add fullback Talor Walters (Storm), hooker Jack Cook (Storm), Kalani Going (Raiders), Lindon McGrady (Bulldogs), Jaleel Seve (Wests Tigers) and former Titans under-20s players Shane Gillham, Harry Hughes, Tevita Folau and Blake Lenehan, and Woolf has a good blend of youth and experience at his disposal.

And come round-two, a strong contingent of Titans players will come back to the Seagulls with the likes of Keegan Hipgrave, Max King, Bryce Cartwright, Will Matthews, Mitch Rein and Michael Gordon and other key backs allocated to the Gulls’ feeder system.

“The positive thing for us is that even with our captain Cheyne Whitelaw and the experienced Christian Hazard missing with injury, we can still start the season with a strong squad and some exciting kids who our supporters haven’t seen yet,” CEO Paul Stephenson said.

“And while we have four players from the Titans dropping back in Leilani Latu, Ryley Jacks, Tremain Spry and Ione Seiuli, another three or four might be with us in round two with Garth Brennan’s squad pretty healthy.

“We certainly have better depth than we’ve had in recent seasons and it would be a big confidence boost to start the season with a win.”

The clashes with the highly physical and enthusiastic Hunters, who also have a largely new look side, has been a feature of the Seagulls’ past two seasons.

Tweed won both matches in 2017, becoming one of only three teams at that stage to beat the Hunters in PNG, before going down 32-18 in PNG and 22-18 in a thrilling contest at Piggabeen last year.

Sunday’s team is:

  1. Talor Walters, 2. Ryland Jacobs, 3. Lamar Liolevave, 4. Treymain Spry, 5. Ioane Seiuli, 6. Lindon McGrady, 7. Ryley Jacks, 8. Leilani Latu, 9. Jack Cook (c), 10. John Palavi (c), 11. Kalani Going, 12. Jaleel Seve, 13. Kirk Murphy. Interchange: 14. Kurtis Dark, 15. Shane Gillham, 16. Harry Hughes, 17. Jarrod Morfett. Reserves: 18. Tevita Folau 19. Luke Jurd 21. Blake Lenehan