David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Tui Lolohea dropped from Warriors line-up ahead of crucial Cowboys clash

Tui Lolohea has been dropped ahead of the Warriors clash against North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images.
Tui Lolohea has been dropped ahead of the Warriors clash against North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images.

Tui Lolohea has been dropped for the Warriors crucial NRL clash against reigning premiers North Queensland on Saturday as they fight to reclaim a spot in the top eight.

Lolohea has paid the price for a forgettable outing in last Saturday's 41-22 defeat to South Sydney, dropped from the squad entirely after his positional play at fullback was badly exposed by the kicking game of Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds.

David Fusitu'a returns to the No1 jersey he last occupied against Canberra in round 20, with Blake Ayshford reclaiming the right centre position after filling a spot on the interchange bench for the last three games.

Coach Andrew McFadden explained Lolohea's demotion will provide him time to regain some confidence while he has been named to play in his favoured position of five-eighth for the club's Intrust Super Premiership side against the Mounties at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.

"Tui has done a good job for us at fullback during the season but it's a really difficult position to play, probably the most difficult in the game," said McFadden.

"He needs to get some confidence back in his game as well as having the chance to play in his preferred spot in the halves.

"At the same time David has shown his ability in all the positions in the outside backs. He's been great on the wing and in the centres while he also brings a lot to the side at fullback."

The rest of the starting line-up remains intact for the match at Townsville's 1300Smiles Stadium, with rookie hooker Jazz Tevaga starting for the third straight week in the absence of the injured Issac Luke, and fellow dummyhalf Nathaniel Roache again included on the bench.

The only other change sees prop James Gavet added to the bench after a two-game absence for his ninth appearance of the year.

"James has been pushing to come back into the team with his form for our ISP side," McFadden explained.

"We're looking for a lot more from our forwards this week. We need to do much better in the battle in the middle in what will be a really tough game for us."

After consistently impressive defensive performances in nine straight games (six wins and three golden point losses), the Warriors found themselves down 31-6 at halftime against the Rabbitohs and despite an improved second-half showing could not overcome the visitors.

They now prepare for the trip to Townsville, one of the most challenging assignments in the game.

It hasn't been made any easier by the fact the 2015 premiership-winning Cowboys have lost their last three games and have won only six of their 10 matches since May to sit on 28 points, four outside the top four.

The Warriors beat the locals 20-16 in Townsville in 2014 and took a 24-22 lead into the last two minutes last April when the Cowboys broke their hearts with a late try to win 28-24.

The 2014 victory is their only win in Townsville in their last 10 matches there; their only match-up with the Cowboys this year has become critical to their finals hopes.

Overall the Warriors have an 18-17 win-loss record against the Cowboys but it's 5-10 in Townsville.

Cowboys v Warriors at 1300Smiles Stadium, Saturday, 9.30pm

Warriors: 1. David Fusitu'a, 2. Ken Maumalo, 3. Blake Ayshford, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. Manu Vatuvei, 6. Thomas Leuluai, 7. Shaun Johnson, 8. Jacob Lillyman, 9. Jazz Tevaga, 10. Albert Vete, 11. Bodene Thompson, 12. Ryan Hoffman (c), 13. Simon Mannering.

Interchange: 14. Nathaniel Roache, 15. Sam Lisone, 16. Ben Matulino, 17. James Gavet, 20. Bunty Afoa.

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