New signing Issac Luke, veteran Manu Vatuvei and comeback second rower Ben Henry all came through their first appearances of the year unscathed as the Vodafone Warriors overcame the Gold Coast Titans 40-18 in Saturday's NRL trial at Whangarei’s Toll Stadium.
The senior trio all came off the field as planned shortly before halftime and didn’t return, each of them making strong contributions.
There was much to like across the park in a hit-out in which the Vodafone Warriors finished with a line-up dominated by players still NYC-eligible or only just out of the grade. Indeed two of them (Bunty Afoa and Semisi Tyrell) scored four of the side’s seven tries while Ata Hingano kicked four conversions.
The Vodafone Warriors’ opening salvoes were impressive and aggressive.
An attacking scrum, a strong Vatuvei carry and then sharp movement to the left had 2015 NRL rookie second rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner across in the opening minutes. In his first game as a Vodafone Warrior, hooker Luke was astray with the conversion.
By the ninth minute, Faitala-Mariner had a double courtesy of some pinball football as a last tackle kick cannon-balled off players before the second rower latched onto it for an easy touchdown. Luke’s conversion was on point from the side-line giving the Vodafone Warriors 10 points at slightly better than a point a minute.
Luke was having an immediate and significant impact with his slick work out of dummy half but the hot start didn’t carry on, the Titans checking the Vodafone Warriors’ progress after earning a repeat set from a penalty.
While fielding an unheralded combination short on first-grade experience, the Titans laid on some slick football to their left for wing Blake Anderson to score wide out.
Denting the Gold Coast regularly with his carries up the middle was Vatuvei, making his comeback appearance from shoulder surgery.
When coach-for-the-day Andrew Webster changed out his starting big men – injecting Upu Poching, on-trial James Gavet and NYC-eligible Bunty Afoa from the bench – there was an immediate lift in intensity.
From a penalty near Gold Coast’s line in front of the posts, the Vodafone Warriors set up splendidly for Afoa to rampage across, Luke with the conversion for a 16-4 lead.
The changes kept coming with Vatuvei and Henry going to the bench. Still on the field for a few more minutes before being replaced was Luke, having a decent blowout in his first outing of the year.
With the changes to the home side’s combinations, the Titans began to work their way back into the battle. A last tackle kick bobbled about, wasn’t tidied up and former Vodafone Warriors NRL squad member Matt Robinson was on the spot to claim it for his side’s second try leaving the home side 16-8 ahead at halftime.
Six minutes into the second half, the Vodafone Warriors were all precision. Newcomer Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, switched from the centres to the halves, went to the line, dummied to his right and then fed a rampaging Charlie Gubb on his inside shoulder. Gubb was a chance of scoring himself but when checked short he flicked an off load out the back for Faitala-Mariner to rumble in for his third try of the match.
The props were enjoying themselves, Albert Vete bursting clear soon after and only just prevented from going over. A goal-line drop out was forced and from the ensuing set Hingano put centre Tyrell in for the side’s fifth try.
It was proving a benefit for the big men. With Faitala-Mariner’s treble and Gubb and Vete running free it was soon Afoa’s turn. Already with a close-range try to his name, he was set loose on a storming, irresistible 30-metre run to the line.
At 34-8, the Titans retaliated, feeding off a fumbled attacking kick for a Tyronne Roberts-Davies try and they then doubled up with some good support play down their left for second rower Morgan Boyle to score.
Fittingly enough, given the way they started, the Vodafone Warriors also finished well, shipping the ball left for Tyrell’s second try.
Vodafone Warriors 40 (Raymond Faitala-Mariner 3, Semisi Tyrell 2, Bunty Afoa 2 tries; Issac Luke 2 conversions; Ata Hingano 4 conversions).
Gold Coast Titans 18 (Blake Anderson, Matt Robinson, Tyronne Roberts-Davies, Morgan Boyle tries; Jamal Fogarty conversion).
Halftime: 16-8 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Jared Maxwell and Henry Perenara.
Vodafone Warriors: Tomas Aoake; Manu Vatuvei, Matt Allwood, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Ken Maumalo; Ata Hingano, Erin Clark; Albert Vete, Issac Luke, Charlie Gubb; Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Ben Henry; Ligi Sao. Interchange: Upu Poching, James Gavet, Jazz Tevaga, Semisi Tyrell, Ofahiki Ogden, Bunty Afoa, Viliami Kaveinga, Marata Niukore, Kane Telea, Dillon Rota, Junior Pauga, Sheldon Pitama, James Bell.