Titans hand youngster NRL debut

Gold Coast have suffered a double injury blow ahead of their NRL match against the Warriors in Auckland on Saturday with halfback Ashley Taylor and co-captain Nathan Friend ruled out.

Taylor picked up a groin injury earlier in the week at training and didn’t make the trip across the Tasman, with fellow youngster Cameron Cullen coming into the team in his place.

The match will be Cullen’s third in first grade after playing earlier this year against Cronulla and Canterbury.

Friend also didn’t travel to New Zealand after picking up a hand injury in Sunday’s loss to Canberra.

The veteran hooker, after announcing earlier in the week he will retire at the end of the season, will be replaced by local product Karl Lawton.

The 20-year-old utility player will make his NRL debut at centre with Chris McQueen shifting back into the forward pack.

McQueen will replace Leivaha Pulu in the second row with the Auckland-born forward moving onto the bench and Nathan Peats to start at hooker in place of Friend.

Lawton missed the start of the season with a pelvic injury but has been playing in the centres for feeder club Tweed Heads in the Queensland Cup over the past four rounds.

Titans coach Neil Henry says he’s confident the youngster is ready to step up to first grade.

“Karl is a versatile player who has worked really hard and he’s big enough and quite quick,” Henry said.

“He hasn’t played a lot of football after a late start to the season because of injury but he has been with us full-time since the off-season and gets his chance against the Warriors, and we’re confident he won’t let us down.”

Lawton’s older brother Kayne played seven games for the Titans from 2009-12 before heading to Manly and then French club Carcassonne.

The pair will become the first brothers to represent the Titans in the club’s history.

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