It might have been another heartbreaking loss for the Titans but the performance in Auckland during a 27-18 loss to the Warriors was an encouraging one.
For the second week in a row the team had to play most of the second half with 15 men and back-rowers Zeb Taia and Chris McQueen in the centres. During that period 13 players were unavailable through injury.
So to lead the Warriors, who have won four of their past five games, for 63 minutes on their turf was commendable. And it showed the improved depth in the Titans squad this season.
Karl Lawton, whose debut appearances was tragically cut short after 46 minutes through a broken leg, looked comfortable at this level. He was busy, confident and his first tackle on Warriors’ power-centre Solomone Kata was aggressive and complete.
Nathaniel Peteru returned for his first NRL appearances since featuring in the Auckland Nines and played strongly in his 31 minutes off the bench. Cameron Cullen is another who is not overawed in this company and ran the ball 11 times, coming up with a determined try and was close to scoring two more.
Three forwards played the entire 80 minutes. Nathan Peats did so for the first time for the Titans at hooker, and he made 54 tackles. Agnatius Paasi was tremendous in his first 80-minute performance since last season while Taia played his usual all-game role although for almost half the time at left centre again with Chris McQueen having to switch to the right after Lawton went off.
Coach Neil Henry was happy with yet another plus-80 per cent completion rate and generally the defence for most of the match which kept Warriors danger man Shaun Johnson in check until the 66th minute when he cut loose and probably wrapped up the game, spotting Cullen coming out of the line and waiting on Johnson’s pass.
However, there were two tries from scrum set plays – the first to right winger Tuimoala Lolohea in the 34th minute and Bodene Thompson in the 72nd – that didn’t please the coach.
After a round 18 bye the next challenge is one of the Titans’ rare Friday night games *(one of only two for the season) against the Dragons at Kogarah. Hopefully Ash Taylor, David Mead, William Zillman and Konrad Hurrell will all be fit and ready to add reinforcements to the backline.
A win then is not imperative but highly desirable with a run of three home games to follow against Parramatta, the Warriors and Cronulla.
KEY MATCH STATS
POSSESSION: Titans 49%, Warriors 51%
COMPLETION RATE: Titans 83% (29/35), Warriors 84% (32/38)
ERRORS: Titans 7, Warriors 7.
TACKLES: Titans 310 (missed 35), Warriors 320 (missed 21)
OFFLOADS: Titans 7, Warriors 8.
LINE BREAKS: Titans 2, Warriors 4
PENALTIES: Titans 5, Warriors 5.
TOP TACKLERS: Nathan Peats 54, Ryan James 42, Luke Douglas 35, Greg Bird 26, Zeb Taia 23, Agnatius Paasi 22,
TOP METRE MAKERS: Josh Hoffman 177, Anthony Don 132, Chris McQueen 124, Zeb Taia 118, Greg Bird 112, Agnatius Paasi 111.
HIT-UPS/RUNS: Zeb Taia 15, Chris McQueen 13, Luke Douglas 12, Greg Bird 12, Agnatius Paasi 12, Cameron Cullen 11, Ryan James 10.
TOP MINUTES (forwards): Taia 80, Paasi 80, Peats 80, James 68, Douglas 57, Bird 50, Pulu 41, Peteru 31, Burr 18, Simpkins 8.