Two key changes have been forced to the Vodafone Warriors line-up following the injury-enforced loss of fullback Kevin Locke for todays 13th-round clash against Manly at Mount Smart Stadium (4.05pm kick-off; match day sponsor: TNT).
Locke, in dazzling form in Monday nights 56-18 win against Brisbane, was ruled out after being troubled by a hip flexor complaint in the teams final run yesterday.
His absence sees Glen Fisiiahi switching to fullback from the right wing for his 15th career match with Ngani Laumape, originally due to turn out for the Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup today, starting on the wing in his sixth NRL appearance.
As confirmed yesterday Suaia Matagi (25) starts in the front row replacing 109-game veteran Russell Packer, whos sidelined with a sternum injury. It will be Matagis second appearance since his debut against the Bulldogs in Wellington on May 11 but his first at home in front of his family and friends.
Matagi was named on a five-man bench on Tuesday to cover for the possibility of Packer being ruled out. He has trained with the side in all session this week.
Called into the squad today to act as 18th man, is former Vodafone Junior Warriors captain John Palavi. He has been all but ever-present for the Vulcans this year.
The Vodafone Warriors go into this match seeking their third win on end after beating Newcastle and Brisbane in their last two outings; the club hasnt had a run of three consecutive wins since July 2011.
If theyre to complete an overdue hat-trick today theyll have to reverse a trend which has seen Manly dominate meetings between the clubs for number of years. In the last 13 encounters the Vodafone Warriors have won only twice both at Brookvale Oval in 2005 and 2009 and lost the last six on end. Overall Manly has won 16 of the 23 clashes between the clubs.
The Sea Eagles sit fourth on the ladder boasting the best defensive record of all clubs so far, conceding just 128 points.
The last time they lost at Mount Smart Stadium was in 2007 when the Vodafone Warriors, wearing a replica Auckland jersey, won 36-14 in front of a crowd of 25,070. The occasion was to mark the 30th anniversary of the Auckland representative team beating Australia, Great Britain and France in the space of three weeks in 1977.
The only survivors from the side that day are Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei and Sam Rapira from the home side and Jamie Lyon and Anthony Watmough from Manly.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott is having his 249th match as an NRL coach, his landmark 250th due next weekend against the Sydney Roosters (where he was an assistant coach last season).
His achievement follows memorable marks for Feleti Mateo and Jacob Lillyman who have brought up their 150th career appearances in recent weeks. Mateos was memorable for the wrong reasons when the Vodafone Warriors slumped to their heavy loss to Penrith but Lillymans was a total source of joy as he joined his fellow front rowers to set the perfect platform for the playmakers and finishers to wreak havoc against the Broncos on Monday night.
In their next three home games the Vodafone Warriors host Manly, Brisbane (June 30) and Melbourne (round 20) while they have away dates with the Sydney Roosters (June 15) and South Sydney (July 7).
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.05pm, Sunday, June 09
Referees: Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor
12SIMON MANNERING (c)
18TH MAN: JOHN PALAVI
HEAD COACH: MATTHEW ELLIOTT