NZ Warriors 26 Gold Coast Titans 10
It was too early to speak of playoffs and points tables, but not to make big first impressions.
So, while Warriors fans probably left North Harbour Stadium last night feeling impressed with their team's pre-season scoreline over Gold Coast Titans, at this stage, new coach Brian McClennan was more intent on intangibles.
"I wanted to see the players come through nice and healthy, and that they've enjoyed the experience," he said. "The players need to play the game and work really well within the system and the structures that we've been training in the off-season.
"If we can come through that with the feeling that everybody had a real good understanding of what we're doing and took care of their responsibilities, that's good."
While McClennan's arrival means everyone is starting afresh to some degree, this first trial outing was especially important to the rookies making their way up from last year's champion youth side. Six were on display against Gold Coast, with threequarters Ben Henry and Konrad Hurrell named in the starting lineup, and all receiving their first chance to stake a claim on regular first-grade time.
"This would be a special moment for them," said McClennan. "It's a significant step, and something for them, their families and friends to think about.
"The main thing is to give them the opportunities, and if they nail them, it makes the coaching staff think this could be someone we can accelerate through the system."
The centre spot has been a particular Achilles' heel for the Warriors in recent years - Henry started there last night, but Hurrell is another expected to help plug the hole. He began his senior career on the wing and his inexperience was immediately exposed.
When the visitors ended their opening possession with a bomb inside the Warriors 20m mark, Hurrell remained earthbound as counterpart Joe Vickery soared high to gather and score.
But within moments the debutant atoned with a try in the corner, the beneficiary of a looping pass from halfback Shaun Johnson. James Maloney's conversion locked the scores at 6-6.
"I've been dreaming about this for a year," said Hurrell afterwards. "I'm there - it's the start of a new journey, so I've got to keep going forward. "It's pretty intense, pretty hard. At training, I've been trying to learn how to deal with the high ball and obviously need to learn more - I was pretty gutted to give them that try, but glad to get the next one."
The game, played in four 20-minute quarters was hardly 10 minutes old when the Warriors suffered a double injury blow. Prop Jacob Lillyman was already walking gingerly up the tunnel to the dressing room when, out on the field, fullback Glen Fisiiahi was smashed to the ground as he gathered another high ball.
He wobbled to the sideline and soon afterwards, replacement Lewis Brown crashed over in the same corner as Hurrell. The Warriors were 10-6 leaders after the first period.
Within two minutes of the restart, Johnson took advantage of a half-break from former Gold Coast hooker Nathan Friend to score. Then Fisiiahi, having recovered from his earlier knock, gathered a loose ball on his own 10m mark and raced the length of the field for a try of his own.
"Defensively, we were pretty strong," reflected McClennan. "They attacked at our ruck quite a bit and we held up pretty well there.
"Attackwise, in the first half we were pretty good, but in the third quarter we were underdone.
"Shaun Johnson and Jimmy Maloney both came off at the same time, and we gave our young guys a bit of a chance. They did the best they could and they'll get better."
After their early success, the Titans were struggling to string together any kind of challenge and didn't help themselves with simple infringements at the restart, kicking out on the full once and straying ahead of the kicker on another occasion.
Trailing 6-20 at halftime, they did provide the only scoring action of the third quarter, when Jamie Dowling split the Warriors defence for an unconverted try. But any thoughts of a comeback were extinguished with five minutes remaining when they spilt the ball on attack and Bill Tupou recovered to sprint 90m for the clincher.
McClennan was reasonably satisfied with the exercise, although he hinted the news on Lillyman wasn't good.
"He's likely to miss games, but the club will release details over the next couple of days.
"Of the new kids, Benny Henry played some long minutes and was very solid, very safe. Konrad did a very good job for us on the wing - he's infectious in his enthusiasm and a lovely kid. He's going to be a good player, this boy."
NZ Warriors 26 (Konrad Hurrell, Lewis Brown, Shaun Johnson, Glen Fisiiahi, Bill Tupou tries, James Maloney three goals) Gold Coast Titans 10 (Joe Vickery and Jamie Dowling tries, Jordan Rankin goal). Halftime: 20-6