Coffs Harbour will play host to an NRL Trial Game between the Gold Coast Titans and South Sydney Rabbitohs in February. In the lead up to this match, we caught up with Gold Coast Titans coach, John Cartwright, to find out more about the club …
You’ve been coaching the Titans since they first joined the NRL. What was it like introducing a new team into the comp?
For me personally, it was a huge thrill. It hadn’t happened for a long time, and to come into an area like the Gold Coast, which is Rugby League heartland, was very exciting. Fortunately, I had a fair bit of lead in time to get the side together. I had 12 months up on the Gold Coast before the team actually kicked off, so we did a lot of homework.
We had time to get all our facilities in order and get plans for the future done. It was a very exciting time, and the first time we ran onto the field was in Coffs Harbour in a trial against the Melbourne Storm – and I remember that very clearly. Then that led in to our first game against the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium, which was a big moment for all of us.
> What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far with the club?
I don’t think we’re different to anyone else in the competition. Every year is a challenge, and every day is a challenge. I think initially for us starting off there were only a certain amount of players who were coming off contract, so we were pretty limited as to whom we could buy.
We looked overseas and we looked right around Australia, and we looked in our own backyard. We’ve got a lot of kids who’ve come through the system now, who are kids we spotted in those first 12 months and came through our under 20s and are now playing first grade.
That was one of our bigger challenges – putting a side together with only a limited number of players coming off contract.
> For a new team, the Titans have done extremely well. What has been the key to their success so far?
I think everything starts and stops with your management. I think Michael Saul and his team have given me every chance to get the best possible side on the field. I think the players that we recruited in the early days, the senior players who are still here, have really led the club well.
They’re first class people on and off the field, and they feel a little bit of ownership of the club as well, because they were here when we started and they don’t think the job’s done until we can win the title.
> What’s the best thing about your job?
I love what I do; I love the coaching role. Coaches at the NRL level are very privileged, being that there are only 16 jobs to go around and there are thousands and thousands of people who would like to have a crack at it.
For whatever field you’re in, to be involved with the very elite and the very best and to try and be the best of that field is what drives me. I want to be involved with this team and with this club and bring home a premiership, and that’s something that will always drive me.
> Queenslanders are pretty passionate about their football. How do you think that helps drive the team – particularly when they’re playing a home game?
Our crowd, I think, is up there with the very best in the NRL. We average up near the 20,000 mark every week and no matter what we have in there, they make plenty of noise and get behind us.
They’re supportive when times are tough, and when the side is going well, you’ve only got to ask a player to know how much of a help the crowd is – especially in tight situations.
On many occasions last year we won close games, and I’ve got no doubt the crowd gave us that little bit of an extra push.
> Tell us about your facilities on the Gold Coast.
We’re training at a new centre at Robina, just adjacent to Skilled Park. It’s probably safe to say it’s as good as anything, probably even the best of any NRL club, and it equals anything that I’ve seen in any professional code in the world.
> You’ll be playing a trial match against Souths in Coffs Harbour in February. How are you preparing for that?
Most of the squad will play. All our focus is on getting ready for the Dragons game in the season ahead, but having said that, all these trial games are important, because positionally we’re going to have some changes from last year. So this is a really important part of getting ready for that first game against the Dragons.
> How have you been preparing in the off-season?
Like anyone else we’re just trying to get fitter, stronger and bit smarter and go into the game with no injuries and everyone available and everyone putting pressure on each other.
> Who do you think are going to be some of the players to look out for in the Titans this year?
We’ve got a mixed squad. We’ve got some very experienced guys, and we’ve got some young guys. Some guys got a taste last year and played their first one or two full seasons in first grade … guys like Kevin Gordon, David Mead, Joseph Tomane, Steve Michaels, Esi Tonga, William Zillman.
They’re all very young guys and they’re at an age where the more they play first grade at an NRL level, the better they’re going to get; so I’m very excited about those guys. They’re all very exciting prospects.
> What are some of the big things that we can expect from the Gold Coast Titans this year?
Every year, every club goes out to win the grand final. We’re not going to be that different, but it’s not something that we as a club come out and make booming rash statements about. It’s all about getting ready for our first game. It’s a long hard season, and a lot can happen along the way.
If you get too far ahead of yourself, you can derail. So all our off-season is about being fit and ready for our first game.
> Coffs Harbour is actually heavily into our Rugby League. Do you have any tips for our young guys who are aspiring to play in the NRL?
The main thing is enjoyment. It doesn’t matter what you want to do in life; if you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not going to get the best out of it.
If you just decide that Rugby League is the path that you want to take and you love every minute of it (it’s too hard of a game to do if you’re not really enthusiastic about it) then train hard and prepare well.
Learn as much as you possibly can along the way from your peers, but for me, the main thing is to make sure that you’re enjoying it.
> Thank you John, and good luck with the season.