Hunt for finals starts early

It is only round one but, in the fight to make the finals, some games matter more than others.

That is the case when the New Zealand Warriors take on the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday afternoon at Central Coast Stadium.

Last year’s 10th and ninth-placed sides respectively will need this early season win if they aim to jump into the top eight by the end of the year.

The 2020 season proved challenging for both sides.

The Warriors spent the season away from home due to the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 pandemic and their head coach Stephen Kearney was also sensationally sacked, four weeks after the season restart.

Despite the adversity the Warriors managed to galvanise behind interim coach Todd Payten and expose their whole squad to more minutes and invaluable development throughout the season.

Now armed with new coach Nathan Brown, and seven impressive recruits, including Euan Aitken, Addin Fonua-Blake, Bayley Sironen and Ben Murdoch-Masila who will make their debut on Saturday, the Warriors will take their first step in trying to shake the perennial under achiever tag they have gained for the past 20 years.

The Titans however, finished with a flurry in 2020, winning their final five games to finish one game out of the top eight despite have a 3-9 win loss record after round 12.

If Titans win today, it would be the side’s longest winning streak of six.

The promising finish and a heavy offseason recruitment drive has sparked optimism at the franchise who has only managed two finals appearances since their inception in 2007.

The Titans managed to lure Origin stars David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui as well as former Warriors centre and goal-kicker Patrick Herbert, who will all make their debuts this weekend.

These recruits, alongside the emergence of players such as Jamal Fogarty, AJ Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaiki, Jaimin Joliffe and Erin Clark have the Titans poised for a finals berth.

While this match up may not be the blockbuster of the round it could help set up an interesting race to the finals at the end of the season.

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