Tonumaipea the Titans' saviour at centre

Scott Bailey
Young Tonumaipea has returned from a Mormon mission to face an unexpected assignment at the Titans

Young Tonumaipea can go from a Mormon mission in Germany to the Gold Coast's saviour in the backline amid the club's vaccination dramas, according to captain Ryan James.

After arriving at the club on a train-and-trial deal, Tonumaipea is expected to be upgraded to a full-time contract two years after his last NRL game in Melbourne.

The 27-year-old Samoan international's timing seems impeccable given English centre Kallum Watkins left the club to return home and look after his father.

Brian Kelly, Watkins' centre partner from round two, is also unavailable after refusing to have the coronavirus-related flu jab.

Kelly and teammate Bryce Cartwright have until Thursday to accept the club's request to be immunised, or else they will be ruled out until the Queensland government lifts COVID-19 restrictions.

Kelly's stance leaves a gaping hole in a backline already stressed by a possible long-term injury to fullback AJ Brimson.

Those setbacks mean Tonumaipea, who scored 12 tries in 43 games for the Storm between 2014 and 2017, is almost certain to be rushed into Justin Holbrook's line-up on May 28.

"Young has been awesome," James said.

"He looks like he hasn't missed a game of footy. His talk is unbelievable. It looks like it is still ingrained in him two years on.

"Even though he hasn't played footy for two years, he looks like he has just fit straight back in. His fitness is unbelievable,

"Once he gets a shot this year he will really take the chance. He was a great player before he went on his mission, so I assume he will still be a great player now."

In further good news for the Titans, forward Keegan Hipgrave has been cleared by medical staff to return from concussion issues.

Meanwhile, James did concede the loss of Watkins would be a blow to the team although he'd struggled to find his best form in the NRL.

"It was sad to see him go because he was training so well in the off-season and was looking silky at centre," James said.

"I thought it was definitely going to be a great year for him. He gave up going away on that England tour to give us a full pre-season and definitely did that."