Player power is piling the pressure on Garth Brennan to pick 19-year-old front-rower Moeaki Fotuaika in his starting team when Gold Coast open their season against the Raiders.
Little more than 12 months ago, Fotuaika was on a six-week train-and-trial contract that was first upgraded to a development deal and then ultimately, what at the time, seemed an extraordinary four-year contract.
He went on to play 16 NRL games last season and has continued to impress senior players to the extent that captain Ryan James has touted the Tongan powerhouse as a future leader of the club.
Brennan saw the impact the teen tyro had when he handed him his NRL debut in round nine last year and knows he will have a hard time keeping him out of his side for the March 17 season opener.
“The thing that has blown me away has been the reaction of the players around him,” the Titans coach told NRL.com.
“They love him. When it was announced on the bus on our way to Canberra last year that he was going to be making his debut, the roar on the bus was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
“Players were jumping over him and cuddling him. We’re talking about senior players like Ryan James, Nathan Peats and Kevin Proctor.
“For them to be so excited to see this young kid make his debut and the way they embrace him at training sums up the aura the kid has. Players just want to play with him; they want him in the team.
“There’s no bigger accolade you can get from anyone. You can get Dally M medals and all those sorts of things but to me the greatest accolade you can get in rugby league is players love playing with you.
“He’s really pushing hard for a starting spot. That’s a big 12 months from a kid that was a train and triallist looking for an opportunity.”
Entering his second year as standalone captain, James recently attended a leadership seminar conducted by the RLPA where basketball legend Andrew Bogut was a guest presenter.
He is adamant that the quietly spoken product of Keebra Park High School has the qualities necessary to one day captain the club.
“I reckon Moeaki could be a leader of the future,” James said.
“He does everything right. He trains hard, works hard.
“He doesn’t have much of a voice but everything he does with his actions shows that he wants to be here and contribute to the success of the club in future.”
Brennan says the club should be immensely proud of Fotuaika’s graduation into the top grade.
“It’s been a whirlwind considering where he’s come from the past 12 months,” said Brennan.
“He gives everything he can every time. That’s what I’ve noticed about him above anything else. He gives everything he’s got every time, every drill, every time he’s asked to do something.
“He doesn’t say much Moe. He leads with his actions and what he does on the training paddock.
“He’s a real success story for the Gold Coast Titans. He was behind David Fifita and Payne Haas at Keebra Park, always playing second fiddle to them but he has come out and grabbed his opportunity.
“He’s a real humble kid, he just goes about his business and the players just love playing with him.
“He’s been a revelation.”