An unchanged Vodafone Junior Warriors side has the chance on Friday night of giving the club its third NYC grand final appearance in four years.
With their outstanding 58-6 victory over the third-ranked Sydney Roosters last Friday night, the Vodafone Junior Warriors became the only team outside the top four to survive the first two weeks of the finals.
The win set up a preliminary final against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday (5.15pm kick-off local time; 7.15pm NZT). After finishing the regular season in fourth spot, the Bulldogs upset minor premiers the Canberra Raiders 27-26 in week one of the play-offs.
While the Canterbury-Bankstown players were having a week, off the Vodafone Junior Warriors produced their finest display of the season and one the best in the clubs history to rout the Roosters.
With their week one 20-18 win over South Sydney, the Vodafone Junior Warriors now have a record of 10 wins and just four losses in 14 NYC finals matches.
The injection of experienced players returning from the New South Wales Cup has predictably benefited the team. Against the Rabbitohs, captain David Bhana, Albert Vete and Raymond Faitala-Mariner returned to the fold while last week Siliva Havili and Viliami Lolohea were back in the squad.
Hooker Havili was among the most influential players against the Roosters coming up with a try (and very nearly a second), 98 metres from nine runs, four tackle breaks, two off loads, one line break and one line break assist.
The most experienced player in the side, hell make his 55th NYC appearance on Friday night; for a hooker, he has an impressive strike rate of 25 tries.
While Havili is the only player in the side with 50 NYC appearances another eight have played 30-plus matches while nine of them are involved in NYC finals for the second time. Eko Malu was in the grand final-winning side in 2011 and Havili, David Fusitua, Ngataua Hukatai, Viliami Lolohea, Mason Lino, Albert Vete, James Taylor and David Bhana all featured in last years play-offs.
Rookie Tuimoala Lolohea, last week named the TNT NYC Young Player of the Year, ranks third equal among all try scorers, his four tries against the Roosters lifting his tally to 22. Hes also one of only three players who have appeared in all 26 games so far this year, the others being hooker-second rower Michael Sio and interchange prop Sam Lisone.
While Lolohea boosted his points total for the season to 134, halfback Lino kicked nine out of 10 attempts at goal against the Roosters to bring up 100 points and break through 250 points in 39 NYC games.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors will face the Bulldogs for only the second time this year having won 34-24 at Westpac Stadium in Wellington in May.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS v CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS
ANZ Stadium, Homebush
5.15pm, Friday, September 27
Referees: David Munro and Adam Gee
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
13DAVID BHANA (c)
HEAD COACH: JOHN ACKLAND