Nine months after the tragic passing of his brother in a freak accident, Cameron Cullen will fulfil a promise he made when he makes his NRL debut for the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday.
Having warmed up as part of an extended squad last Friday night prior to the game against the Broncos, Cullen has been named at five-eighth alongside fellow NRL rookie Ashley Taylor to face the Sharks this weekend.
With Tyrone Roberts at least a week away with a knee injury the introduction of Cullen allows Greg Bird to drop back to his favoured position at lock while prop David Shillington (hip flexor) has been named but will be assessed later in the week.
Co-captain William Zillman has also been named, but on an extended bench, David Mead holding on to his No.1 jersey for the time being.
Cullen couldn't bring himself to take to the field for Mackay in the Intrust Super Cup following elder brother Justin's tragic death in July last year, but told the Daily Mercury that his motivation to play NRL had gone “next level” as a result of the tragedy.
Having returned home to play for Burleigh in the Intrust Super Cup, Cullen was given a ‘train and trial’ contract with the Titans when Kane Elgey suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first week of January and on the back of strong performances in trial games against Parramatta and South Sydney, was rewarded with a one-year deal.
Still just 22 years of age and having spent time in both the Broncos and Cowboys NRL systems, Titans coach Neil Henry believes the time is right to blood yet another young half.
“He's worked very hard defensively as well in the pre-season so credit to him. It's a testament to guys that have been in and around systems. If you persevere and you're willing to do the hard yards you'll get a crack,” Henry said.
“He's had a very good game (Cullen was Man of the Match for Burleigh last Sunday) and been playing good football in the Cup, he had his pre-season with us and didn't let anyone down in a couple of NRL trials.
“He went to Alice Springs and played against Parramatta and then backed up and had a good performance against South Sydney.
“I feel he's ready, Ash Taylor needs some help there, ‘Birdy’ (Greg Bird) is better in his position and we've got confidence that ‘Cullo’ will do the job.”
When he came on against South Sydney in the Titans' final pre-season trial, Cullen challenged the line with his direct running and clever passing game.
Stature-wise, he fits somewhere between Queensland great Allan Langer and former Kiwi superstar Stacey Jones and Henry expects Cullen to bring that direct style of play into his NRL debut.
“He's sharp on his feet and when he's playing like that he's taking the line on,” Henry said.
“He ducked over for a try and set up another one on that left edge with Zeb [Taia] and Zeb's still there so they'll work on that side of the field.
“Cullo needs to put his own stamp on the game, but I expect Ash to still do the majority of the kicking.
“He's a very good kicker of the ball and handled it last week, but with our end to sets we were a bit scratchy at times and under pressure so we need to be a bit better.”