KEARNEY RESISTS WHOLESALE CHANGES FOR CRUNCH TITANS CLASH

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Stephen Kearney has handed Chanel Harris-Tavita an NRL debut at the expense of rookie five-eighth Adam Keighran for Friday night’s must-win assignment against the Gold Coast Titans at Mt Smart Stadium.

But the Warriors coach has bucked pressure from the club’s fanbase to take a hatchet to an underperforming three-quarter line and forward pack. The only other changes to the line-up humiliated 46-12 by Manly in Christchurch last weekend see Karl Lawton replaced the injured Issac Luke at hooker and Ligi Sao come onto the bench for Gerard Beale, who sat unused against the Sea Eagles.

Kearney has also elevated Leeson Ah Mau to the starting line-up and moved Bunty Afoa to the interchange – despite Afoa outperforming fellow front-row starter Agnatius Paasi in all three games so far this season.

Centre Solomone Kata has somehow survived despite an abhorrent defensive display in the Manly loss that was the subject of a tidal wave of social media criticism. Fellow tackle-shy centre Peta Hiku was also under the pump to keep his spot with Beale, Blake Ayshford and uncapped Patrick Herbert waiting for an opportunity.

Sao was a standout in the Warriors’ Canterbury Cup draw with Blacktown Workers on Sunday, a match Lawton missed through suspension. Utility Nate Roache – the first cab off the No.9 rank after Luke – is still nursing a calf complaint.

After a charmed debut in the Round 1 win over the Bulldogs, Keighran’s demotion has split opinion. But the ex-Bulldogs and Panthers lower-grader has paid the price for two subpar displays marred by tentative attack, woeful general play kicking and missed tackles. But he was by no means the worst player in back-to-back loss to the Tigers and Sea Eagles, which only brings Kearney’s selection strategies – particularly an unwillingness to punished repeated incompetence (Kata, Hiku) and mediocrity (Adam Blair) – under further scrutiny.

It’s a dream early birthday present for Harris-Tavita, however, with the gifted ball-player turning 20 on Wednesday. He will be charged with sparking an impotent offence after Keighran and Blake Green ran out of ideas in the past fortnight.

“There’s no question our performance against the Sea Eagles last week was disappointing,” Kearney said.

MANLY MAUL WEAK WARRIORS IN CHRISTCHURCH

WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS

8pm NZT, Friday, April 5 @ Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland

WARRIORS

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)

2 David Fusitu’a

3 Peta Hiku

4 Solomone Kata

5 Ken Maumalo

6 Chanel Harris-Tavita

7 Blake Green

8 Agnatius Paasi

9 Karl Lawton

10 Leeson Ah Mau

11 Isaiah Papali’i

12 Tohu Harris

13 Adam Blair

Interchange:

14 Jazz Tevaga

15 Bunty Afoa

16 Lachlan Burr

17 Ligi Sao

18 Gerard Beale

20 Leivaha Pulu

21 Adam Keighran

22 Blake Ayshford

WARRIORS ROUND 3 PLAYER RATINGS

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