We will certainly take a young, fairy inexperienced team into the first-round clash against Norths Devils on Sunday, but we need our guys to rip in and take Norths on and set the tone of what we’re about as a group in 2018.
We’ll be underdogs, that’s for sure, as the Devils have recruited well and have plenty of experience, but hopefully we will come out and compete from the opening whistle. We’re not expected to beat them, but I know we’re capable of beating them.
When you look at our side to start the season, in the backs we have winger Kiah Cooper who is only 20, AJ Brimson who’s 19, Brayden McGrady at 21, Ryland Jacobs 21, Tevita Folau, 23, and our new halfback Eli Levido who is 22.
In the pack, our youngest player is Titans-contracted prop Moeaki Fitauaika, who’s still 18, Tony Mata’utia, 20, and Hiale Roycroft who is 21.
It’s unfortunate we’ll be without our captain and back-rower Cheyne Whitelaw because of an arm injury he suffered while playing for the Titans in the trial against Brisbane Broncos. Cheyne has been very impressive with his attitude at training in the pre-season and that’s why I gave him the captaincy but we won’t see him until rounds three or four.
He comes from the Roosters and Rabbitohs system and was selected in the NSW Residents team last year and also the NSW Cup team of the year (he played with North Sydney, the Rabbitohs feeder team). He’s a back-rower with a high work-rate (he averaged 37 tackles a game last season) and good discipline and I think he’ll be a great acquisition for the Seagulls.
Cheyne is one of quite a few new players this season. In the round one team we have seven players wearing the Seagulls jersey for the first time in at Intrust Super Cup level in Kiah Cooper, Ryland Jacobs, Alexander (AJ) Brimson, Eli Levido, Moeaki Fotuaika, Hiale Roycroft and Tony Matautia.
By the way, the Titans players allocated to the Gulls this season are Kiah, AJ, Tony, Max King, Ryan Simpkins, Brendan Elliott, Phil Sami, Keegan Hipgrave, Max King and Will Matthews.
There were some tough selection decisions going into the first game and the toughest was probably at five-eighth with AJ dropping back from the Titans. It means that Lindon McGrady is out of the 17 but he’ll still be an important member of our squad during the season.
We elected to stay with AJ and recruit from South Sydney Eli Levido in the halves. AJ is an NRL player of the future who I was fortunate enough to coach in the Titans under-20s where he won our player of the year award last season at the Titans and is a real talent. I went with Eli to partner him as he is a bit more physical defensively than Lindon so gives us a bit more size and punch when we have to defend.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Brayden McGrady will produce for us at right centre. Everyone knows what Brayden’s capable of but injury and probably too much of an easy-going nature has held him back. But he is in the best shape I’ve seen him in and hopefully that will convert to some good consistent form.
Moeaki is a player to watch. He was joint player of the year in the Titans 20s last year with AJ and, even though he’s only 18, he ran the ball really well in the Titans’ trial matches in NRL company against the Broncos and Warriors and was far from overawed. He’s big and physical and can be a real trump card for us this season.
He came to the Titans through an open trial and was the best player on the field. He went on to play most games as a prop and was selected for the Junior Kiwis and he should develop further this year in older company.
We need our young guys to bring the enthusiasm, aggression and energy to Bishop Park on Sunday and take on the challenge.
They’ve trained really well in the past few months and I’m excited to see what we can do as a group.
Tweed Heads: 1. Ali Grant, 2. Kiah Cooper, 3. Ryland Jacobs, 4. Brayden McGrady, 5. Tevita Folau, 6. Alexander Brimson, 7. Eli Levido, 8. Tristan Lumley, 9. Sam Meskell, 10. Moeaki Fotuaika, 11. Lamar Liolevave, 12. Hiale Roycroft, 13. Tony Matautia. Interchange: 14. Jenan Parrish, 15. Jordan Aiono, 16. Jarrod Morfett, 17. Sam Saville.
Norths Devils: 1. Jack Ahearn 2. Paul Ulberg 3. Gehamat Shibasaki 4. Luke Ellis 5. Luke Pollock 6. Gary Riccardi 7. Todd Murphy 8. Sam Tagataese 9. Alex Bishop 10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 11. Moses Noovao-McGreal 12. Michael Sio 13. John Palavi 14. Calum Gahan 15. Oshae Tuiasau 16. Carne Doyle-Manga 17. Guy Williams