‘Not tough enough’: McKinnon’s scathing Cartwright call
TITANS coach Garth Brennan has reaffirmed his faith in the talents of Bryce Cartwright but according to Alex McKinnon the former Panther's playing style isn't tough enough to succeed in the NRL.
Coming off a 54-8 thumping from the Dragons last Sunday the Titans now have to face up to a local showdown with a Broncos team that embarrassed them to the tune of 54-0 the last time they met.
Their defence through the middle of the field in the first three games of the year has been a disgrace and McKinnon believes a lot of that comes back to Brennan's decision to play Cartwright at lock, a decision the rookie coach now admits he got wrong.
"Ideally I would have loved to have started Bryce from the bench but due to injuries and suspension my hand was forced and I really needed to throw him into the deep end right from the start," Brennan said.
"I probably didn't do the right thing by Bryce by doing that.
"He's certainly not being dropped or anything like that. My plan was always to start him off the bench.
"Now we've got some players back it gives me that luxury to put him back on the bench and ease him back in."
Despite having the industrious Jai Arrow in his squad, immediately upon luring Cartwright from Penrith to the Gold Coast Brennan spoke of his desire to use the skilful backrower as an extra ballplayer on either side of the ruck.
But after two games at lock - Cartwright played in the halves against the Warriors in Round 2 - Brennan will use the 23-year-old from the bench against Brisbane.
The other Brennan backflip involves Ryan James who after spending the pre-season training on the left edge alongside Kane Elgey has now moved back into the front row to renew the partnership he shared with Jarrod Wallace last season.
Arrow moves back to lock and former Dragon Will Matthews has been picked to start in the back row after missing last week's loss to his old club due to injury.
No team has conceded more points (102), missed more tackles (121) or had their line broken more times (22) than the Titans in the first three rounds and McKinnon believes it stems from the tone set by their lock forward.
"I'm a big believer that your No.13 sets your standard, especially in defence," McKinnon said prior to the Toowoomba catastrophe.
"Garth Brennan came out at the start of the year and said that Jai Arrow was going to be his 13. They signed Cartwright and in my opinion he's just not a tough player.
"I don't think the style that he plays translates into first grade.
"A young kid coming into first grade, you just need to tuck it under your wing and earn your right.
"You just need to play tough, have your 15 carries and make your 30 tackles.
"Their middle is just not tight enough. They need that middle forward to be tight around the ruck, especially in defence, and just take those carries."
McKinnon's pre-game concerns quickly came to fruition after the kick-off as Cartwright regularly found himself left on the ground behind the play-the-ball in defence and barely buckled the Dragons in attack, despite standing 192 centimetres and weighing 107 kilograms.
"Gee I'd like to see him tuck the ball under his arm rather than worrying about passing it all the time. Run hard!" an exasperated Steve Roach said in commentary.
His tired efforts around the ruck saw Dragons half Ben Hunt sneak through the line after just 10 minutes and his general body language at both ends of the field screamed of someone eager to stay well clear of the collision.
After the Titans somehow dragged themselves back into the contest after a disastrous start to draw level it was Cartwright that blew a golden opportunity to put his side in front, spilling the pick-up after Matt Dufty failed to harness an Ash Taylor bomb.
Ten minutes later Tyson Frizell almost ran clear over the top of the 23-year-old who went low rather than opt for strong contact up top and from the next play the Dragons scored their fourth try of the afternoon.
The flow-on effect of Cartwright's deficiencies in the middle has been that extra defenders have been pulled into the middle and the edge defence has been horribly exposed.
Even a 12-man Dragons side found acres of space out wide as the likes of Kevin Proctor and Ryan James folded in to stop the cavalcade of opposition forwards careening their way down the centre of the park.
Prior to 2018 Cartwright had never started a game as a middle forward and statistics provided by the Fox Sports Lab show that defensive intent has not been a strong suit in his 72 games to date.
Of the 1507 tackles Cartwright has made to date only 172 have been in a one-on-one situation and his overall tackling efficiency is 85.6%.
In 72 games he has been the cause of an opposition line break 50 times and former Dragon Mark Gasnier said he needs to get those areas of his game right before he can flourish in the NRL.
"When you come into grade you can't try and force your talent," Gasnier said.
"You've got to get the little things right that your team needs and then your talent shines through.
"When you're out of form and you try and play yourself into form you become worse.
"When you get the little things right the natural talent takes over."