Gold nanorods (AuNRs) have the potential to be used in photoacoustic (PA) imaging and plasmonic photothermal therapy (PPTT) due to their unique optical properties, biocompatibility, controlled synthesis, and tuneable surface plasmon resonances (SPRs). Conventionally, continuous-wave (CW) lasers are used in PPTT partly due to their small size and low cost. However, if pulsed-wave (PW) lasers could be used to destroy tissue then combined theranostic applications, such as PA-guided PPTT, would be possible using the same laser system and AuNRs. In this study, we present the effects of AuNR size on PA response, PW-PPTT efficacy, and PA imaging in a tissue-mimicking phantom, as a necessary step in the development of AuNRs towards clinical use. At equivalent NP/mL, the PA signal intensity scaled with AuNR size, indicating that overall mass has an effect on PA response, and reinforcing the importance of efficient tumour targeting. Under PW illumination, all AuNRs showed toxicity at a laser fluence below the maximum permissible exposure to skin, with a maximum of 80% cell-death exhibited by the smallest AuNRs, strengthening the feasibility of PW-PPTT. The theranostic potential of PW lasers combined with AuNRs has been demonstrated for application in the lung.