Under-fire Cartwright’s ‘line in the sand’ performance
CRITICISED, challenged and relegated to the role of spectator on the bench.
It was a disastrous start to life as a Titan for Bryce Cartwright but his return to form against the Sea Eagles on Sunday could not have come at a better time.
A Titans team now boasting a strong influence of former Panthers - not the least of which is their coach - will travel to Penrith on Sunday eager to consolidate their place in the top eight.
Given the Titans have been on the road for a month now their record of three wins from their opening five games is exciting their supporters and giving rookie coach Garth Brennan a strong platform from which to build.
The final piece of that platform was Cartwright, who joined the Titans from the Panthers just weeks before the start of the season and was thrust immediately into the starting lock forward position.
It proved an uneasy fit and after three weeks Cartwright was dropped back to the bench, playing just a solitary minute in Gold Coast's 26-14 win over the Broncos.
The 23-year-old's contribution against Manly was far more significant, a trademark flick pass setting up the first of Jai Arrow's two tries just 60 seconds after coming onto the field.
But after the likes of Alex McKinnon and Gorden Tallis questioned whether Cartwright played in a tough enough manner to succeed in the NRL, it was his effort areas that garnered the greatest praise on Sunday.
Half of the Panthers' 1991 premiership-winning second row along with Cartwright's uncle John, Penrith legend Mark Geyer believes it was the type of performance that will propel him back to the standard that had him touted as a player destined for Origin.
"Yesterday a line in the sand was drawn," Geyer told Triple M's The Grill Team.
"He came out and said, 'I want to be a first grade footballer.
"I've felt for him over the last month. He's copped it and probably rightly so.
"I think he'd be the first to admit that his form has been way down but the only way you can answer your critics or people denying whether you should be a first grader or not is on the field, and he did."
After difficult questions were asked by prominent people who have played NRL, Matty Johns added his belief that it was a tougher Bryce Cartwright who played 55 minutes against the Sea Eagles.
His nine runs yielded 83 metres and despite having to defend in the centres opposite Dylan Walker for the final 25 minutes of the game, missed just one tackle for the game.
"The people that criticised Bryce Cartwright, it was Gorden Tallis - Gorden is a fan of the Titans - and Alex McKinnon," Johns added on Triple M.
"Alex said straight after a game that Bryce had to muscle up and play a little tougher.
"Cartwright played tough. He didn't try to do too much with the ball and came up with a real good try-saver as well."
Brennan first coached Cartwright when he was just 18 years of age and he elevated him into Penrith's under-20s squad.
The Titans coach has an unfailing belief in Cartwright's ability and was thrilled to see an improvement in the little areas of his game.
"Bryce just did his job, carried the ball and got down and played the ball a few times," Brennan said.
"He wasn't looking for the offload all the time but set up a try with a nice little offload which he is more than capable of doing.
"I thought he defended really well with that one-on-one tackle on (Daly) Cherry-Evans in the first half and then with that miss (on Brian Kelly) where he ran back hard and saved the day for the team.
"He is a work in progress but I am really happy and I think he took a real step forward today."