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The Gold Coast Titans rugby league club has beaten rival code rugby union and league premiers Wests Tigers to clinch the signatures of two of the city's most promising footballers.
Keebra Park State High firsts captain Matthew Francis and The Southport School first XV co-captain Mitchell Herlihy were yesterday unveiled as the fledgling Coast club's latest recruits.
The pair, who were schoolmates at AB Paterson College before sporting scholarships took them on different paths, will be part of a 27-member Titans Elite Academy.
Titans football manager Scott Sattler described the signings as 'significant'. Francis, 18, had been a target of the Tigers who have a close relationship with Keebra, while Herlihy, 17, was already part of rugby's national identification squad.
Sattler said Francis, a workaholic hooker, and Herlihy, a robust centre, were classic examples of the Titans plan to focus on homegrown talent.
"Matt Francis was captain of a team (Keebra) beaten in the final of the Arrive Alive Cup for the best school in the nation," said Sattler.
"At 17 he was playing first grade Mixwell Cup with the Burleigh Bears this year and was voted the Bears' player of the season out of all grades, including Queensland Cup. He is one of our feeder clubs' best players."
Herlihy has not played rugby league but has been immersed in the code since birth. His father Graham is a former Brisbane Brothers first grade league player who later coached Brisbane Easts in the Queensland Cup.
"I think Mitchell is more suited to league than rugby," said Sattler. "He is in the mould of a Matt Cooper fast, strong, very good on his feet. Off the field he is a straight-A student.
"It is a coup to grab him because in the long run I think he will be one of those players that would have been a success at either code."
The Elite Academy will have its first gathering on Sunday at Bond University, and Sattler has high expectations of the group.
"The players in the Elite Academy will meet on a monthly basis and will be fast-tracked a little more than your usual academy players," he said.
"We would like a few to jump out of the ground and vie for a spot in the top 25 squad for the 2007 season.
"They will work hand-in-hand with first grade coach John Cartwright for the next 12 months and have a relationship with him that no other player will have in the NRL.
"In fact, they will have 12 months jump on a lot of our NRL players that are arriving in October next year to start training with the Titans. John Cartwright may like the way some of the academy players are developing and throw them in the deep end."
Francis and Herlihy were excited yesterday over their signings.
"I am really happy, actually a bit stunned about being selected," said Francis. "It's going to be a great experience, especially working under John Cartwright and Scott Sattler.
"I had offers from the West Tigers to move to Sydney but it is great to be able to live here on the Gold Coast and concentrate on trying to make the grade for the Gold Coast Titans."
Herlihy is confident he can successfully cross over to league.
"It's a great opportunity to get some great coaching and further my skills and hopefully make it to the top level," he said.
"I've grown up watching league and I am expecting the transition to league to be a little tough for the first couple of games.
"It's (playing rugby league) something that I've thought about and the Titans being put in the NRL has been the catalyst for the move from union."
Francis and Herlihy started at AB Paterson College in the same year, Francis in Year One and Herlihy in pre-school. But Francis pursued a rugby league scholarship at Year Nine, firstly Coombabah State High and then Keebra. He also played all his junior league with Runaway Bay.
Herlihy joined TSS in Year 10 on a rugby scholarship.