The longest-serving current Vodafone Warriors Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei will be centre stage for Friday night’s historic third-round NRL clash against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs under Forsyth Barr Stadium’s roof in Dunedin (8.00pm kick-off).
The relentless Mannering (30) will make his 261st career appearance to draw level with the great Stacey Jones – and current assistant coach – for the most games for the club.
And Vatuvei (31), the club’s try-scoring record holder, was today named to make his first NRL appearance of the season – and the 226th of his career – after turning out in the Intrust Super Premiership in the first two rounds this year.
With Mannering on the cusp of the mark for most appearances it means two of Jones’ records are set to bettered in the space of two weeks (Shaun Johnson topping Jones’ all-time points-scoring record of 674 with his 56th career try against Melbourne last week).
“I can’t say enough about Simon. He represents everything we want this club to be,” said Kearney.
“It’s a wonderful achievement for him to play that many games and throughout he has consistently maintained the highest standards. You could count on half a hand the number of games he hasn’t been up to his usual level.
“Manu has played really well in his two games in the ISP after missing the trials and he’ll provide us with the valuable experience we need.”
Kearney has significantly boosted the experience factor in the starting line-up for the trip south.
As well as Vatuvei, front rower Jacob Lillyman has been brought into the run-on side as has seasoned second rower Bodene Thompson; they were both used from the bench in the opening two rounds against Newcastle and Melbourne.
Vatuvei, Lillyman and Thompson provide an injection of more than 470 NRL games between them for this week’s starting line-up as the Vodafone Warriors seek to rebound from last Friday night’s 10-26 loss to Melbourne at a sodden Mount Smart Stadium.
It means the Vodafone Warriors’ regular starting back row combination since 2015 – Mannering, Thompson and Ryan Hoffman – is reunited for the first time this year while Vatuvei’s inclusion enables Kearney to field two monster wings with Vatuvei on the left and Ken Maumalo shifting to the right. The pair were used in tandem several times in the latter part of the 2016 season. Charlie Gubb and Bunty Afoa move to an extended bench.
The Bulldogs’ ‘home’ game – on St Patrick’s Day but in the ‘Edinburgh of the south’ – is the first NRL competition match to be played in the southern city.
The Vodafone Warriors played preseason trials there in 2013 and 2014 beating Brisbane both times when new head coach Stephen Kearney was on the Broncos’ staff.
The Bulldogs, coming off season-opening losses to Melbourne (6-12) and the Sydney Roosters (24-28), are among the Vodafone Warriors’ most challenging opponents.
The ledger is 19-13 in Canterbury-Bankstown’s favour with two draws while the away record favours the Bulldogs 9-5 with two draws. The Vodafone Warriors’ 24-20 win against them in Wellington last year is their only success in the last six encounters since 2011.
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
8.00pm, Friday, March 17
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (c)
2 KEN MAUMALO
3 DAVID FUSITU’A
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 ALBERT VETE
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 JACOB LILLYMAN
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 ERIN CLARK
15 SAM LISONE
16 CHARLIE GUBB
17 BUNTY AFOA
18 BLAKE AYSHFORD
20 JAMES GAVET
21 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
22 MASON LINO
HEAD COACH | STEPHEN KEARNEY