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Fotuaika sent off as Warriors hold out spirited Titans

The Warriors have continued their charge to the finals after overcoming a tenacious 12-man Titans side 28-18 on Friday night.

The Titans were spirited in their defeat after prop Moeaki Fotuaika was sent off early, with a long-range Jayden Campbell try bringing the game down to the wire until the Warriors rallied late to make it four straight on the Gold Coast.

No points were scored in the opening 20 minutes of the clash but there was plenty of drama with Titans forward Chris Randall (high tackle) was placed on report before Fotuaika was sent off for a similiar tackle on Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

Warriors backrower Marata Niukore was next to be sent from the field with all three incidents occurring within 10 minutes of play.

Having already reshuffled their backline after fullback AJ Brimson (rib) was a late withdrawal after failing to get through the warm-up, the Titans were forced to 12 for the final 62 minutes of the match when Fotuaika's night ended prematurely.

But it was when Niukore was in the bin and both teams were down a man that the home side opened the scoring when backrower David Fifita exploded out of dummy half from close range for his seventh try of the season.

Moeaki Fotuaika sent off

The Warriors soon bounced back though with back-to-back tries through halfback Shaun Johnson, who quickly took things into his own hands to help the Warriors to a 12-6 lead.

Johnson used his footwork to bag the first but has winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to thank for the second with a superb offload to his teammate on the right edge.

Watene-Zelezniak looked to extend the lead just before halftime when he raced over in the right corner but the try was called back from the NRL Bunker for obstruction.

The Warriors went further ahead early in the second half through Jackson Ford thanks to some nice lead up work from Johnson and when he slotted the conversion the visitors were out to an 18-6 lead.

The Titans needed to find some momentum and it was Jayden Campbell who stamped his class on the game with a deft kick in-goal, pounced on by charging second rower Joe Stimson to score. 

Campbell had the Titans faithful on their feet again in the 63rd minute when he intercepted a Ford pass before running and sprinted 90 metres to lock the scores 18-18 in an unlikely scoreline given the circumstances earlier.

Shaun Johnson try 34th minute

With the game in the balance it was Warriors skipper Tohu Harris who put the visitors back in the lead, crashing over from close range and breaking a 24-game try drought after some nice lead-up work from Wayde Egan.

The Warriors put the icing on the cake in the 76th minute thanks to a Watene-Zelezniak put-down after Johnson orchestrated a kick on the last tackle.

The Warriors win keeps them in the top four while the Titans are now languishing in 13th with a finals spot unlikely. 

Match Snapshot 

  • Titans fullback AJ Brimson was a late withdrawal pre-game due to an aggravated rib injury suffered in the warm-up.
  • Titans hooker Chris Randall was placed on report for dangerous contact on Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in the 13th minute of the match.
  • Titans prop Moeaki Fotuaika was sent off in the 16th minute for dangerous contact on Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who failed a HIA.
  • The Warriors activated their 18th man Taine Tuaupiki after Nicoll-Klokstad was ruled out for a head knock.
  • Warriors forward Marata Niukore was sent to the sin bin in the 18th minute for contact on Titans forward David Fifita.
  • A total of 12 errors were blown in the first half as both sides struggled with momentum before completion rates included in the second half.
  • Warriors forward Jazz Tevaga returned for his first match since suffering a calf injury in Round 8. 
  • Shaun Johnson continued his remarkable season with another two try assists - moving to 22 for the year.
  • Warriors forwards Addin Fonua-Blake (169 metres), Mitch Barnett (165 metres) and Jackson Ford (146 metres) were enormous for the visitors.
  • Tohu Harris crossed for his first try of the 2023 season.

Play of the game 

It didn't get the Titans the win but Jayden Campbell once again staked his claim as an 80-minute outside back, with a massive 63rd minute play. The Warriors looked almost certain to extend their lead before Campbell plucked a Jackson Ford pass out of the air before sprinting 85 metres downfield to score.

Jayden Campbell try 63rd minute

What They Said 

"I think if you compare the [send off] from last night I don't think it was the same sort of thing. Moe is pretty much bracing, I think maybe 10 mins was probably more sufficient. I don't think it justifies at that point to ruin the game. I don't think Moe was aggressive coming out of the line. They're coming at each other at two different points and they collide. It's unfortunate and no one wants to see that. I thought the send-off was harsh for us." - Titans interim coach Jim Lenihan.

"I think sometimes the expression win ugly you've got to do it. We're all in there understanding that was winning ugly and that's not where we want to be. We've got to make some adjustments when different things change. You're proud of [the win] but the way we executed and played is not where we want to be." - Warriors coach Andrew Webster.

NRL Press Conference: Titans v Warriors - Round 23, 2023

What's Next

The Titans will head down to Sydney to meet with the Sharks at PointsBet Stadium while the Warriors host the Wests Tigers at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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