Rookie fullback Reece Walsh and seasoned prop Matt Lodge return from suspension while new signings Ash Taylor and Jesse Arthars will make their club debuts in the Vodafone Warriors’ second-round NRL clash against the Gold Coast Titans this weekend at Cbus Super Stadium, Robina, on Saturday.
After being forced to miss the season-opening 16-28 loss to St George Illawarra, the 19-year-old Walsh and Lodge, 26, will bolster the side significantly. Both impressed when they played in the side’s 30-18 win over Melbourne in their only trial game on February 19.
With halfback Shaun Johnson and centre Viliami Vailea side-lined for up to four weeks after picking up injuries against the Dragons, Taylor and Arthars are tailormade replacements.
Centre Arthars and playmaker Taylor both appeared in the trial against the Storm but were overlooked for selection last week.
Now, they both have their first outing for their new club against their old one at their former home ground - New Zealander Arthars as Vodafone Warrior #267 and Taylor as #268.
East Coast Bays Barracudas junior Arthars, 23, made his NRL debut with the Titans in 2019, appearing 12 times that year before adding 17 appearances with the Broncos in 2020 and 2021.
Taylor, 26, followed his debut with the Broncos in 2015 with 114 games for the Titans from 2016-2021 before the club released him.
He joined the Vodafone Warriors on a train and trial contract for the 2021-2022 preseason before being upgraded to a full-time deal in January.
As well as missing Johnson and Vailea, the Vodafone Warriors have lost experienced winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, ruled out for six-to-eight weeks with a broken left thumb.
He has been replaced by Adam Pompey. Now in his fourth NRL season, Pompey made his debut on the wing against Cronulla Sutherland in Wellington 2019 and will be starting in the position for the 14th time in 35 matches on Saturday.
Walsh moves straight into fullback for Chanel Harris-Tavita and Lodge into the starting front row for Bunty Afoa. Harris-Tavita stays in the starting line-up, switched to standoff paired up with Taylor with Kodi Nikorima moved out of the playing 17 (selected as 18th man).
Afoa reverts to the interchange role he has filled for most of his 85-match career. In the squeeze for places on the interchange Ben Murdoch-Masila has been named #20.
Apart from Lodge in for Afoa, the rest of the starting pack is the same as the one used to face the Dragons.
Saturday’s return to Cbus Super Stadium brings back unpleasant memories for the Vodafone Warriors of their disappointing season-ending 0-44 loss there to the Titans last year. While they have a 17-4 record in their last 21 encounters with the Gold Coast, they’ve lost three of their last six matches between the two sides including three out of four at Robina.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS
Cbus Super Stadium, Robina
2pm, Saturday, March 19