Henry retirement hits Paasi hard
When the Warriors won the National Youth Competition in 2011 captain Ben Henry was one of many the club held high hopes for.
A young man who conducted himself with maturity beyond his years, Henry was seen as a future leader at the club not only by those in prominent positions but the teammates who played alongside him.
Agnatius Paasi was one of those teammates and two years after dragging himself up off the rugby league scrapheap he took a moment this week to remember the contribution of a mate who has been forced to retire at just 24 years of age.
A patella injury in Round 1 to the same left knee that had to undergo season-ending reconstructions in 2013 and 2015 not only brought Henry's 2016 campaign to an end but also ultimately ended his career in the NRL.
A one-time Test representative for New Zealand, Henry should have been lining up against former teammates from that NYC team in Paasi and Konrad Hurrell in Sunday's blockbuster between the Warriors and Titans but is instead planning for what life after football will hold.
It's a scenario Paasi faced himself when told by Warriors coach Andrew McFadden at the end of the 2014 season that the club would not be renewing his contract and why he is committed to making the most out of every chance that comes his way at the Titans.
"I just take every opportunity as I can," Paasi told NRL.com.
"I don't take anything for granted. With Ben and his injuries upon injuries I'm just happy that I don't have any major injuries and I'm playing week in and week out and getting my body used to playing footy each week. Getting that recovery bit right every single week just to feel 100 per cent leading up to the game.
"His luck with injury was devastating. Three or four times done his knee and it was a sad moment when I saw on Facebook.
"I was pretty sad. Playing with him in 20s, he's a good bloke, humble, doesn't talk up too often but if he did he inspired the team back when he was captain."
Paasi has lined up against the club who brought him through and gave him his NRL debut twice without success since arriving on the Gold Coast on a 'train and trial' contract but is now a key member of a team in the rugby league spotlight like never before.
In the hysteria of Jarryd Hayne's return to the NRL against the Warriors the match-up between Konrad Hurrell and Solomone Kata has been somewhat swept aside but Paasi is expecting something special from 'Koni' in his first game against his former club.
In racking up 192 running metres in each of his first two home games as a Titan – not to mention a try, two try assists and 11 tackle busts – Hurrell has quickly become a fan favourite but faces a stern test against fellow Tongan international Kata.
"Hopefully he can have a good battle against Solomone Kata and we can bring that energy off the bench," Paasi said of the Kiwi connection within the Titans that also includes Leivaha Pulu.
"He did a great job with the other outside backs against the Sharks, bringing the ball back, and hopefully the boys start off strong and we'll bring that energy off the bench with me, Jarryd Hayne if he plays, Vaha Pulu and whoever the other one is."
Captain Ryan James is also expecting something special from the 'Hurrellcane' after informing Gold Coast fans that his mid-season switch from the Warriors only prevented him from playing against his former team at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
"I went down to the junior footy as the Bilambil ambassador and a lot of them didn't think he was playing because it was in his contract but we had about 20 people buy tickets as I told them he was playing," James said.
"I'm sure he's going to be psyched up for this game versing his old club and hopefully Koni goes out there and does what he's been doing the last three or four weeks."
Hayne is expected to come on midway through the first half and slot in at five-eighth with Cameron Cullen to shift to hooker and Paasi is excited at what he will bring to a team looking to take a further step towards a finals appearance.
"It was a bit of a surprise. We didn't know until 10 o'clock when they announced it but he'll be a good player for our attack," Paasi said.
"He's a strong fullback and brings out the ball with 110 per cent so he'll be good if he plays this week and give us more power in attack.
"The playing group have still got a focus about this week against the Warriors. It's a must-win for both clubs and an important win for us moving forward."