Titans charge intercepted by Warriors
They came to see Jarryd Hayne but the biggest Gold Coast crowd in seven years left having seen a Warriors team with genuine premiership credentials with a commanding 24-14 win over the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday.
Two form teams fighting to maintain their place in the top eight put in an absorbing contest for 60 minutes before two long-range intercepts by the Warriors broke the game wide open.
After a brilliant start to life as a Titan the only blot on the Hayne copybook came when a no-look pass in attack was nabbed by David Fusitu'a who was dragged down 80 metres downfield before Solomone Kata scored from the very next play.
Seven minutes later Ash Taylor's shift to the right also fell into the wrong hands with Kata racing 85 metres and putting a brutal fend on Anthony Don to score his second in quick succession and secure the Warriors' position at seventh on the Telstra Premiership table.
Those two tries may have come against the run of play but the Warriors looked the more dangerous and clinical outfit for the majority of the game, winning the physical battle against a Titans team that seemed to be feeling the after effects of going 90 minutes with the Sharks six days earlier.
Although the focus was centred on Hayne's return to the NRL the Warriors carried the form that had seen them play four golden-point games in their past five to bring their large portion of the 25,109 fans on hand into the game early.
Their attack looked slick with each shift but the Titans defence managed to recover despite looking vulnerable on the edges.
Despite three early errors in their half the Warriors took advantage of three attacking sets in succession to post first points through David Fusitu'a in the seventh minute when Shaun Johnson released Tuimoala Lolohea down the right with Fusitu'a's flying finish finding the in-goal centimetres in from the touchline.
Having received three golden invitations to attack by Warriors errors coming out of their own end the Titans hit back courtesy of a repeat set earned when Chris McQueen drove Lolohea back into the in-goal following a Taylor bomb.
Greg Bird poked his nose through from the ensuing set and then with a quick play-the-ball Nathan Peats put a bullocking Ryan James over under the posts to give the home side the lead after 20 minutes.
The Bunker rubber-stamped the Warriors' second try in the 27th minute when back-rower Bodene Thompson isolated Cameron Cullen close to the line but the moment was quickly dwarfed as Hayne came onto the field to replace Josh Hoffman at left centre.
Hoffman was injured in trying to prevent Thompson scoring but when Thompson came a second time shortly after Hayne smashed him to the turf just short of the line with his first tackle in the NRL in 23 months.
If that wasn't enough to signal that the two-time Dally M Medal winner has lost nothing he leapt above the Warriors to take a Nene Macdonald bomb close to the Warriors' try line at the end of the Titans' next set and then offloaded to set up a repeat set that led to a try to Konrad Hurrell.
Hayne's spectacular re-entry hit some major turbulence midway through the second half when Fusitu'a claimed the intercept but overall it was a performance that will have Titans fans and coaching staff salivating at what's to come.
He played 52 minutes, had seven runs for 64 metres and made nine tackles but it was the touches that can't be coached that promise the greatest upside for a team that has been devoid of star quality.
He laid on a late try with a kick for Anthony Don, almost set up another with a bullet cut-out pass on the opposite side of the field and commanded the ball when the Titans went looking for the big plays late in the game.
Warriors 24 (Solomone Kata 2, David Fusitu'a, Bodene Thompson, Simon Mannering tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 2 goals) def. Gold Coast Titans 14 (Ryan James, Konrad Hurrell, Anthony Don tries; Ashley Taylor goal) at Cbus Super Stadium. Half-time: 10-all. Crowd: 25,109. Holden Cup: Titans 22-20.