The Gold Coast Titans’ final NRL pre-season trial turned into a reality check when they were thumped 34-12 by New Zealand Warriors at Oakes Oval, Lismore, last night.
The Warriors produced one of the best trial performances in their history with an impressive seven-tries-to-two victory.
The victory completed a clean-sweep of wins in their three build-up matches ahead of the 2009 NRL season.
It followed a 24-12 triumph against Melbourne in Hamilton and a 32-28 win over North Queensland at North Harbour Stadium last Sunday.
The Vodafone Warriors were in exceptional mood in the first 52 minutes of last night’s contest, leading 30-0 after a six-try surge.
Only then – and as the Vodafone Warriors made numerous interchanges – were the Titans able to make an impression with two tries to come back to 12-30.
But the Warriors finished the match as they began it, getting the ball wide to their right side for new winger Denan Kemp to use his scorching speed to score his second try of the night.
Fullback Wade McKinnon also relished numerous opportunities with the ball with a double of his own, one try in each half.
While the margin of the win and the style of it was satisfying for the coaching staff, one feature of the display was positively stunning. That was the Vodafone Warriors’ kicking game and especially the long kicking which produced an amazing four 40/20 kicks, two each to halfback Nathan Fien and five-eighth Moon. Three of those led directly to tries.
Veteran halfback Stacey Jones was a late withdrawal from the match, sidelined as a precaution with a slight calf muscle injury.
Titans’ fullback and local product, former Kyogle junior Shannon Walker, gave the Lismore fans a glimpse of his ability, scoring a dazzling try after coming off the bench.
Despite the loss, Jetstar Titans coach John Cartwright could find positives in the performance – with the likes of Mark Minichiello, Luke Bailey, Nathan Friend, Matt White and Josh Graham all impressing.
The match also marked the return of Australian Test back-rower Anthony Laffranchi, who had not featured in the club’s other trial matches.
“I think when we fielded our strongest combinations we more than competed with them,’’ said Cartwright.
“I think Mark Minichiello was really good and to get Anthony Laffranchi back out on the field was good because he needed the run.’’
The Jetstar Titans will now have a weekend off to recoup before the club’s season-opening clash against Newcastle at Skilled Park on Sunday, March 15.
At Oakes Oval, Lismore
Vodafone Warriors 34 (Denan Kemp 2, Wade McKinnon 2, Brent Tate, Sam Rapira, Joel Moon tries; Denan Kemp 2 conversions; Joel Moon conversion) d Gold Coast Titans 12 (Brad David, Shannon Walker tries; Chris Walker 2 conversions).
Halftime: 14-0 Warriors.
Referees: Jared Maxwell and Adam Devcich. Crowd: 5117.
There was better news for the Titans’ Under-20 team, who scored a 34-all draw with the Warriors in the curtain-raiser.
Mullumbimby junior Jy Hitchcock was impressive, scoring two tries for the Titans.
After leading 22-6 at half-time, the Vodafone Junior Warriors extended their advantage to 28-6. But then the heat came on literally.
With the temperature in the mid-30s (the match kicked off at 3.50pm), the visitors began to falter.
In the space of five minutes the Titans scored three tries to trail 22-26 and then in the final quarter two more tries completed an astonishing comeback to give Gold Coast a 34-28 lead with just five minutes left to play.
The Junior Warriors were able to recover their composure to make the final statement of the contest, second-rower Sione Lousi using footwork, skill and strength to score between the posts.
Vodafone Junior Warriors 34 (Kevin Locke 2, Jody Henry, Thomas Ah Van, Bill Tupou, Sione Lousi tries; Conversions: Shaun Johnson 5) drew with Gold Coast Titans 34 (Jy Hitchcock 2, Siosaia Vave, Tim James, Jordan Rankin, Fred Tila tries; conversions: Jordan Rankin).
Halftime: 22-6 Junior Warriors.
Referee: Matt Hawkins.