An unchanged starting line-up has been named for the Vodafone Warriors’ 22nd-round NRL game against the Gold Coast Titans at CbusSuper Stadium in Robina on Sunday (2.00pm kick-off local time; 4.00pm NZT).
Tuimoala Lolohea is at fullback for the second week running with David Fusitu’a again in the centres.
The starting pack features prop Albert Vete and ex-Titans back rower Bodene Thompson, both late inclusions against Penrith last Saturday.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has selected a five-man bench notable for the return of 2016 rookies Nathaniel Roache and Bunty Afoa.
Roache (20) comes in for Jazz Tevaga, his last NRL outing being the 17th-round 27-18 win over the Titans at Mount Smart Stadium on July 2. He was superb for the NYC side against Penrith on Saturday with 10 runs, 156 metres, 41 tackles and no misses.
Afoa (19) is in line for his fourth NRL outing, coming back into the squad after he also turned out for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in their 30-28 win over competition leader Penrith last weekend.
The others on the interchange are props Ben Matulino and Sam Lisone plus centre Blake Ayshford.
Saturday’s combatants sit just one point apart on the ladder, the Titans seventh on 23 points and the Vodafone Warriors eighth on 22.
They both go into this week’s vital encounter on the back of golden point extra time encounters, Shaun Johnson clinching a 20-16 victory over Penrith with his stunning 55th career try just 30 seconds short of the end of the second period while the Titans went to the full 90 minutes to draw 18-18 with Cronulla last night.
It was the Vodafone Warriors’ third golden point match in three weeks, their fourth in their last five games and their fifth this year, all NRL records in a season.
Despite the added workload, assistant coach Justin Morgan said the team’s ability to see out matches as well as the improved defence had been encouraging.
“While we’ve been in a lot of tough battles lately it has been pleasing to see the way we’ve been able to finish strongly,” he said.
“Our defence has also been much improved. We’re not doing anything any differently there from what we’ve done all season but it has taken time for the new system to bed in with the players.”
With Ayshford not used from the bench against Penrith, halfback Shaun Johnson is now the only player who has appeared in each of the Vodafone Warriors’ 19 games this year.
His try lifted him to 10 for the season while Fusitu’a moved to the same total with his double. They joined centre Solomone Kata giving the Vodafone Warriors three players among the NRL’s top 20 try scorers.
Johnson leads all halfbacks for most tries, line breaks (13) and kicks (216) while he’s in the top six of all players for most try assists with 15.
This match against Gold Coast is the 20th between the two clubs with the Vodafone Warriors ahead 12-7 while they have a 6-3 edge at Cbus Super Stadium. They’ve won 10 of the last 11 meetings since 2011 including all five in Robina.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS
Cbus Stadium, Robina
2.00pm, Sunday, August 7
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 KEN MAUMALO
3 DAVID FUSITU’A
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 THOMAS LEULUAI
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 ALBERT VETE
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 NATHANIEL ROACHE
15 SAM LISONE
16 BEN MATULINO
17 BUNTY AFOA
18 BLAKE AYSHFORD
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN