Sunday is War Day, a day when we attack, we defend, and every slice of territory is hard fought. It’s yet another crucial battle in the quest for playoff glory. The rewards are enticing — these two points could well be the most important loot of the season for either squad — and it will take every ounce of skill available to either army if they are to come away victorious.
The Warriors got the win at home in Round 17, but this Titans army looks very different from that which ran out onto Mt Smart back at the beginning of July. They’ve called in the cavalry, are expecting a bumper home crowd and will feel very confident they can get revenge.
If recent form is any indication, this should be a cracker of a contest. The men from Mt Smart have all but forgotten what it feels like to play a game that lasts just 80 minutes, and the Titans are fresh off ending the Sharks’ 15-match unbeaten run with a golden-point thriller of their own. Both teams are arguably playing finals quality football already, but there’s no guarantee they’ll both be there come September. If you thought last week was a tense encounter, Warrior Nation, prepare yourself for more of the same on Sunday.
It’s no secret that Kiwis love the GC, and this fixture has been no different — the Warriors have won their previous five encounters at Cbus Stadium — but unfortunately a dark spell has been cast over Mt Smart in the lead up to this match, with a knee injury to Issac Luke that will force him to miss the next month of action. Whether he returns at all this season may depend on how well the Warriors hold the fort in his absence. Jazz Tevaga has been added to the squad, and it seems likely he’ll share the hooking duties with Nathaniel Roache, although personally I’d favour moving Thomas Leuluai to the number 9 and shifting Tui Lolohea to the halves. With the way the Warriors’ big backs are starting sets and building an impressive platform from which to attack, it’s been surprising that the men from Mt Smart have struggled to get across the line in recent weeks. It feels as though they’re very close to busting out, and bringing Lolohea closer to the action while still retaining the steadying hand of Leuluai might well be the final piece of the puzzle that causes everything to click into place.
On a somewhat painful note, this weekend will also mark the first time Konrad Hurrell has run out in opposition to the men from Mt Smart. Much like another former Warrior, Agnatius Paasi, who has flourished since his move to the GC, Konrad finally looks to be enjoying his football. And while I’m not sure if that tinge of sadness every time I see Koni wearing Titans’ colours, throwing flick passes and taking selfies with the GC faithful will ever fully disappear, I feel as though I have to convince myself that, regardless of whether I agree with the circumstances of his departure, this is for the best. That Konrad leaving his comfort zone, being forced into #nomoremuckaround, is the exactly what needed to happen, and simply do my best to enjoy it if he does go on to reach his potential as one of the best attacking weapons in the competition. Could he have done that at the Warriors? I believe so. But, at the end of the day, once it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, that the situation was causing damage to both parties, there was only one option. After Sunday, Koni, you’ll have my full support again, but, until then, take it easy on your old mates.
But if two form teams and the return of a favourite son is not enough for you, I’ve also heard the Titans have recruited a former NFL player and plan to give him a chance off the bench. His name is Hayne, maybe you’ve heard of him? He played for the San Francisco 49ers? Punt returner. Apparently he’s kind of a big deal.
Whether or not Hayne is a help or a disruption remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine the outcome of this match as anything other than a close contest. With all the storylines and big names on show, no doubt there’ll be drama and a dash of razzle dazzle. Appointment viewing, for sure. I’m picking it might just come down to one moment of magic, a single strike that leaves the opposition in ruins and ensures only one team’s troops to emerge victorious.
Something like this would do nicely.
Gold Coast Titans vs New Zealand Warriors at Cbus Super Stadium, Queensland, Sunday 7 August 2016
Holden Cup kick off: 11:40am (local, 1:40pm NZ time)
NRL kick off: 2pm (local, 4pm NZ time)
The Warriors emerged victorious on Simon Mannering’s big day back in Round 17, can they do it again?
Warriors: 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 Interchange: 14 Nathaniel Roache 15 Sam Lisone 16 Ben Matulino 17 Bunty Afoa 18 Blake Ayshford
Titans: 1 David Mead 2 Anthony Don n3 Josh Hoffman 4 Konrad Hurrell 5 Nene MacDonald 6 Tyrone Roberts 7 Ashley Taylor 8 Luke Douglas 9 Nathan Peats 10 Ryan James 11 John Zebelon Taia 12 Chris McQueen 13 Greg Bird. Interchange: 14 Eddy Pettybourne 15 Leivaha Pulu 16 Agnatius Paasi 17 Cameron Cullen 18 Ryan Simpkins
Warriors: Issac Luke will have knee surgery and is out for approximately a month. Jazz Tevaga has joined the squad and will likely play.
Titans: Tyrone Roberts is expected to miss out, with Cameron Cullen to take his place in the halves and some guy called Jarryd Hayne to join the bench.