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NRL family quick to rally after Titmuss tragedy

To team-mates and coaches he was "Keithy" – a shy, unassuming young man who many believed was destined for a long and successful NRL career.

As they struggle to comprehend the tragic unexpected death of Keith Titmuss on Monday, Sea Eagles players and others across the game are being comforted by a network of wellbeing staff from their clubs and the NRL.

The 20-year-old’s former NYC coach Wayne Lambkin was among those to pay tribute to Titmuss and he said it had been a "massive shock for everyone" to learn that the rookie had passed away after a training session at Narrabeen.

Lambkin, who is now at Wests Tigers, had to inform some of Titmuss' former schoolmates in his squad of the news before their training session on Monday and he said: "I struggled to get the words out".

GF: TRY Keith Titmuss (79th min)

Manly coach Des Hasler had to do the same after calling his players together just hours after many of them had seen Titmuss taken to hospital in an ambulance.

Sea Eagles welfare and education manager Matt Ballin, who played 217 NRL matches for the club, travelled with Titmuss in the ambulance, while Hasler and CEO Stephen Humphries visited his family at the hospital.

The NRL’s senior wellbeing and education manager Paul Heptonstall was also at Narrabeen on Monday and watched the training session so he was able to offer immediate assistance to Ballin and fellow Manly welfare manager Glenn Moore.

Between them, they arranged for four counsellors to help the grieving Sea Eagles players and staff, as well as the club’s chaplain.

By Tuesday, the support network included the wellbeing managers at other NRL clubs – many of whom are former players such as Joe Galuvao (Wests Tigers), Luke Kelly (South Sydney), Kevin Kingston (Penrith) and Luke Goodwin (Canterbury).

"That is the rugby league community, especially in Sydney. Everyone knows someone or played with someone," Heptonstall said.

"We have had all of our wellbeing managers connecting with each other today, just offering help, and the thing I am most proud of is that we have got this community of people who we have worked really hard to try and develop their skill sets to be able to manage situations like this.

"We also bring our chaplains into that circle and the Manly chaplain was here yesterday too."

A grief counsellor spoke to the younger Manly players - a number of whom played alongside Titmuss in the team which won the 2017 NYC grand final.

Titmuss was only 17 but scored the winning try and after earning the SG Ball player’s player award last year he was signed on a development contract and had just been elevated to Manly’s top 30 squad.

"He would have debuted at some time," Lambkin said.

"Manly had put a lot of faith in him over a long period and he played in my NYC team as a 17-year-old and there seemed to be no doubt that he was going to make his debut one day.

"He was a very unassuming kid. I had him for six years at school at Westfield Sports High School and he didn’t say a lot ... he’d just give you a grin without too many words.

"There was no lair in him, he was just a really nice kid – very quiet and very polite. He came from a good family and was affectionately known as 'Keithy'.

"He was very well-liked at school and with my Manly team. When he came in as a 17-year-old the older boys wrapped their arms around him and made him a part of it quite quickly, and God bless him, he won them a premiership by scoring that try.

"I see a lot of kids come in as 13-year-olds with dreams and by 16 or 17 the dreams have passed them already because something else had gotten in the way but he was persistent with his training and his pursuit of making the NRL.

He was just a really nice kid – very quiet and very polite. He came from a good family

Wayne Lambkin, a former coach of Keith Titmuss

"He was a very nice young man and had great qualities. I just feel so sorry for his family."

Titmuss' family and the Sea Eagles management didn’t want his team-mates to learn the news through social media so the club called them together late Monday.

Senior players who are still on leave, such as Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic, were in attendance.

"The face of this is the head coach so Des is the one who had to get the playing group together and stand in front of them with Stephen Humphries, and that is a tough role because the players are looking for leadership," Heptonstall said.

"Full credit to Des, he always invests himself in the players and he went to the hospital.

"Matt Ballin is really connected to the playing group and he jumped in the ambulance straight away and was with him and his family from start to finish.

"Having an ex-player who can understand the players going through and has the right qualifications is really helpful.

"They are processing it now so it might take a couple of days to sink in around the loss but having that experienced counselling network through the NRL and RLPA gives us a fair bit of confidence in dealing with situations like this."

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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