Agnatius Paasi ready to 'bump heads' with Storm pack as Warriors prop weighs up Kiwis or Tonga

2019-06-07 00:40:09

A smile flashed across the face of Agnatius Paasi as he discussed the challenge awaiting him this weekend.

Suspended for the Warriors' last match against the Broncos, the barnstorming front-rower has returned to the starting pack for Saturday's home clash against the competition-leading Melbourne Storm.

Melbourne have set the benchmark in the NRL for more than a decade and it's always a big occasion whenever they come to Mt Smart Stadium. But it's the battle within the battle that has Paasi so pumped about the matchup.

The 27-year-old is always eager to test himself against the best props in the game - and they don't come much tougher than Storm bookends Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

"Yeah, I love those competitions," Paasi told Stuff. "They're two of the Kiwis props so I'll be looking forward to bumping heads with them.

"We've got Lees (Leeson Ah Mau), he's a Kiwi as well, so we've got a strong forward pack. Hopefully we can get over them and I'll be looking forward to the battle."

If Paasi can maintain his strong form over the next two weeks, he could find himself lining up alongside Bromwich and Asofa-Solomona for the Kiwis against Tonga on June 22 - or possibly against them.

Indeed, the Tongan-born, Auckland-raised prop has a big decision to make, one he is genuinely torn by.

Paasi withdrew from the Mate Ma'a Tonga squad at the end of last year to tour England with the Kiwis, although he didn't play a test.

He made that decision to honour his late aunt, former Black Ferns forward and Wellington stalwart Ponisitia Paasi, who passed away last year.

But the lure of representing his country of birth remains strong and Paasi, who played for Tonga in 2014, has given himself a deadline of this week to finalise his international future.

"I'm still 50/50 but the team I pick I'll stick with," he said.

"I've been in touch with both coaches and they've given me some feedback on how I've been going. At the end of the day I've just got to make that decision."

Before then, Paasi's immediate priority is picking up where he left off prior to sitting out the 8-2 loss to Brisbane.

While he took a few weeks to build into the season, the former Gold Coast Titan hit his straps in the round four win over his old club and has run for 100-plus metres in five of his last seven games.

He's been particularly strong over the last month, scoring tries in his last two outings, including a bulldozing effort during the away win over Penrith.

In his second stint at Mt Smart after returning to the Warriors last year, Paasi has also emerged as a leader in the middle third following the retirement of Simon Mannering last year and Adam Blair's recent dip in form.

"Certainly this year, I think that's stepped up," Warriors coach Stephen Kearney said.

"I thought [Blair] was really good against the Broncos but prior to that he'd been juggling with a bit of form.

"Agnatius stepped forward and really put his hand up as being a leader. And obviously with the retirement of a 300-gamer in the middle with Simon, it's really good that Agnatius has taken up that responsibility."

Having gone into the bye with a disappointing 4-7 record, Saturday's encounter is the perfect chance for the Warriors to set the tone for the second half of the season.

It's also an opportunity to set the record straight following the controversial 13-12 defeat in Melbourne on Anzac Day.

The battle in the middle will be crucial - it always is - and for Paasi, their role is simple. The key is maintaining the rage until the final whistle.

"It was running hard and tackling hard that got us into that position (on Anzac Day)," he said. "We all have to step up as a team so we can get over the line this week."


NZ Warriors v Melbourne Storm 5pm Saturday, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland

Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), David Fusitu'a, Peta Hiku, Patrick Herbert, Ken Maumalo, Kodi Nikorima, Blake Green, Agnastius Paasi, Issac Luke, Leeson Ah Mau, Isaiah Papali'i, Tohu Harris, Adam Blair. Interchange (from): Lachlan Burr, Bunty Afoa, Chris Satae, Karl Lawton, Gerard Beale, Leivaha Pulu, Jackson Frei, Chanel Harris-Tavita.

Storm: Jahrome Hughes, Suliasi Vunivalu, Will Chambers, Marion Seve, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Brodie Croft, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith (c), Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Felise Kaufusi, Kenneath Bromwich, Dale Finucane. Interchange (from): Brandon Smith, Joe Stimson, Tui Kamikamica, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Justin Olam, Patrick Kaufusi, Albert Vete, Sandor Earl.

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