A powerhouse club debut from front-rower Addin Fonua-Blake provided a tantalising window into the Warriors’ immediate future, but an elbow injury sustained by hooker Wayde Egan was an unwanted headache for Nathan Brown as his side drew 12-all draw against Gold Coast Titans in Lismore.
Egan reeled away from a tackle 15 minutes into the trial and left the field wincing in pain.
Fonua-Blake, meanwhile, was top shelf, consistently bending the Titans’ defensive line back and racking up post-contact metres, popping offloads and getting through a pile of defensive work.
The Warriors recovered from a 12-0 deficit to trail by six at halftime, before scoring the only try of the second half and withstanding a 15-minute Titans barrage on their own line to hold out for a share of the pre-season spoils.
Both teams will take a decent amount of confidence into Round 1, where they meet again at Cbus Super Stadium.
Wayde Egan off with suspected right elbow injury, by video hyperextension brings concern for ligament/tendon injury, have to hope no complete tear or fracture involved (4+wks recovery). Shoulder subluxation also possible in this position. Some early doubt for his Rd1 availability pic.twitter.com/uj5R7XGBAe
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) February 27, 2021
Steadying the ship after dismal start
If first impressions are important, the opening 20 minutes was an unflattering start to the Nathan Brown era. The Warriors’ right edge was split open twice and the left once by Titans line-breaks, with only good scrambling keeping the nil-all scoreline intact.
Egan went off injured and the floodgates opened. Gold Coast recruit and Queensland Origin tyro Tino Faamausili cruised past poor attempted tackles from Tohu Harris and Josh Curran, before palming off Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score a 30-metre solo try. At the end of their next set, the Titans dotted down again as Anthony Don out-jumped Ken Maumalo to claim a bomb and send Jarrod Wallace over under the posts.
— NRL (@NRL) February 27, 2021
The Warriors regained some momentum after the first drinks break. Their attack inside the Titans’ 20-metre zone was generally awful in the first half: stilted, disorganised, and devoid of timing and imagination.
But they unlocked the Gold Coast defence in the 28th minute, Kodi Nikorima picking up Josh Curran on a great line to crash over. The Warriors squandered a welter of six-again opportunities thereafter, the score remaining 12-6 in the Titans’ favour.
The most encouraging signs from the opening 40 minutes came from blue-chip prop recruit Fonua-Blake – enthusiastic and hard to contain with the ball, busy and effective in defence – and Maumalo looking hungry and powerful as ever in his first outing since July.
Warriors get on top after the break
Back-row veteran Ben Murdoch-Masila made an explosive start to his stint as a Warrior, cutting up the Titans’ defence with deft footwork and an impressive turn of pace early in the second stanza.
Gold Coast’s sloppiness with the ball gifted the Warriors plenty of chances to square things up. They couldn’t capitalise but looked to have found some rhythm and zip in attack, with AFB and BMM causing frequent headaches.
The leveller came in the 56th minute, RTS stepping into open space on halfway and finding Nikorima backing up on the inside. Nikorima handed the ball off to Jazz Tevaga – retrenched to hooker – for a gift try.
Digging deep on D
Brown rung the backline changes for the last 20 quarter of the match. Tyros Rocco Berry, Paul Turner and Hayze Perham had some exciting touches, but – in the case of Turner and Berry – also came up with errors.
The Warriors essentially spent the last 15 minutes inside their own half and without the ball. A monumental display of goal-line defence by the makeshift line-up frustrated the Titans, however, to close out an honourable draw.
First hit-out of 2021 finishes as a 12-all draw.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) February 27, 2021
-If that is AFB’s standard, the Warriors will field one of the most formidable packs in the competition.
-Red-zone attack in the first half aside, the halves were solid – both kicked well (one out of the full from Sean O’Sullivan notwithstanding) and Nikorima always looked a threat with ball in hand. O’Sullivan may have usurped Turner as the first-choice back-up half.
-The question over Euan Aitken’s ability to put Big Ken away remains unanswered, but he produced some powerful moments with and without the ball at left centre.
-Good to see Bunty Afoa and Leeson Ah Mau back on the paddock after injury-wrecked 2020 campaigns. Both ran strongly but came up with a handling mistake.
-Encouraging signs on the edges from Murdoch-Masila, Murchie, Curran and Bayley Sironen.
-Jazz looked better than usual at dummy-half…but I hope he’s not needed there as a starter.
-Big Ken seems primed to reproduce his career-best 2019 form.
-Marcelo Montoya looks a shaky proposition on defence and under the high ball; I’d have him behind Ken, Fus, Pompey and Perham in the wing pecking order at this stage.
-Roger will continue to be Roger until his last second as a rugby league player.
-The character to hold out the Titans in the latter stages with so many young players on the park was a great sign, particularly in a trial game.