Warriors halfback race heats up as young trio get chance to impress in Storm trial
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110763578/-

2019-02-21 01:10:22

It's been the biggest question of the Warriors' pre-season and the race to replace Shaun Johnson heats up on Friday night.

The Warriors play their first game of 2019 in a trial against the Storm in Geelong, with rookie trio Adam Keighran, Chanel Harris-Tavita and Hayze Perham all looking to push their claims for the No 7 jersey left vacant by Johnson's shock departure to Cronulla.

Keighran, who spent the past two seasons playing reserve grade for the Bulldogs and Panthers, is believed to be the frontrunner at this stage. But with veteran playmaker Blake Green nursing a hamstring injury, coach Stephen Kearney intends to give all three players equal time in the halves.

And with Keighran, Harris-Tavita and Perham untested at first grade level, how they perform in the trials is sure to have a major bearing on who is selected to partner Green in round one against the Bulldogs.

"They've come on as the pre-season's gone on and have an opportunity this weekend to do it without an experienced half out there in Blake," Kearney said. "It's a great opportunity for those guys to guide the team around the park.

"Regardless of it being a trial, the Melbourne Storm are always very well drilled and I know when we played them last year down in Rotorua it was a tough first trial and I expect no different."

Five-eighth Api Pewhairangi, who made four appearances for the Eels in 2013 before playing the last three seasons at the London Broncos, is also in the 23-man squad. But Keighran and Harris-Tevita are seen as the leading contenders for the halfback position, with Perham an outside chance as he continues his transition from fullback.

Harris-Tavita has been in the Warriors' system for several years and has shown plenty of promise in the under-20s and reserve grade, as well as for the Junior Kiwis.

But for most Warriors fans, Keighran arrived in Auckland as an unknown quantity.

A former Australian schoolboys representative, the 21-year-old played most of last season at centre, where he was selected in the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW team of the year.

However, Keighran, who has a reputation as a strong a goal-kicker, grew up playing in the halves and has impressed his new teammates on the training paddock.

"He's got a big boot on him which is good and he talks a bit, so he's not shy in that area," prop Agnatius Paasi told Stuff. "He's a good half, they just need to be more comfortable and I think in this trial we'll see if they're going to take on the role or not. It will be a good challenge for them."

The Warriors also play a trial against Wests Tigers in Whangarei next week and Paasi is one of a number of first-choice players rested from Friday's match.

With the likes of Bunty Afoa, Sam Lisone, Isaiah Papali'i, Chris Satae and new recruit Lachlan Burr, they still possess plenty of strength up front and Paasi says it's up to the middle forwards to give the young halves every chance to impress.

"It's pretty straight forward. We know what we have to do in the middle, create that ruck speed and momentum," he added.

"Everyone knows their role it's just all about bringing it on to the field and the halves demanding what they want. If they've got nothing on then that's when we put our hands up in the middle and break down the wall."

Meanwhile, Storm coach Craig Bellamy has named seven players from last year's grand final defeat to the Roosters.

They include Kiwis Brandon Smith and Nelson Asofa-Solomona, although high-profile duo Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster have been rested.

Scott Drinkwater has been given the first shot at replacing retired fullback Billy Slater, with fellow contender Jahrome Hughes on the bench after playing for the New Zealand Māori All Stars last week.

Wing Sandor Earl is also set to play his first match since 2013 after serving a four-year ban for a doping violation and recovering from a season-ending knee injury in 2018.

The match will be streamed live on the Warriors' website.

AT A GLANCE

NRL TRIALS

Melbourne Storm vs NZ Warriors 9.50pm Friday (NZ time), Kardinia Park, Geelong

Storm: Scott Drinkwater, Suliasi Vunivalu, Marion Seve, Curtis Scott, Sandor Earl, Billy Walters, Brodie Croft, Christian Welch, Brandon Smith, Tui Kamikamica, Joe Stimson, Tom Eisenhuth, Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Interchange: Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Justin Olam, Cheyse Blair, Curtis Dansey-Smaller, Tom Hughes, Cooper Johns, Harry Grant, Nicho Hynes, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Patrick Kaufusi, Kelma Tuilagi, Matt Stimson, Trent Toelau, Darryn Schonig, Daniel Dole.

Warriors (squad): Bunty Afoa, Tom Ale, Blake Ayshford, Lachlan Burr, Sam Cook, Neria Fomia, Patrick Herbert, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Keighran, Sam Lisone, Sean Mulaney, Isaiah Papali'i, Hayze Perham, Api Pewhairangi, Adam Pompey, Nate Roache, Chris Satae, Brody Tamarua, Jazz Tevaga, Paul Turner, Ligi Sao, Lewis Soosomea, Cole Waaka.

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