The Vodafone Warriors are at full strength for the first time during the offseason with just 55 days to go until they start their 2014 NRL campaign against Parramatta on March 9.
Only 14 players were on deck when the off-season programme started on October 28, the squad’s size building gradually towards the Christmas-New Year break as players were filtered back into the group after representative duties.
While training resumed a week ago for the bulk of the squad it wasn’t until this week that numbers reached their optimum with Kiwi internationals Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai, Kevin Locke and Ben Matulino returning from Rugby League World Cup duty. Also lining up at training for the first time was new signing Sam Tomkins following his visit before Christmas.
Ahead of the Vodafone Warriors is a congested programme featuring two camps, three preseason trials and the inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines.
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The trials and the Nines fall into a window of just 15 days.
The schedule starts with the Vodafone Warriors returning to North Harbour Stadium for the first time in two years taking on the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday, February 9 (4.00pm kick-off).
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Three days later on Wednesday, February 12 they face the Super League-Challenge Cup winning Wigan Warriors at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton (7.30pm kick-off). ‘The Battle of the Warriors’ will be a tune-up for Wigan ahead of the World Club Challenge against the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, February 22.
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The following day – Thursday, February 13 – festivities ramp up for the NRL Auckland Nines with the Vodafone Warriors joining the other competing teams in an Auckland-wide blitz of local clubs. The Vodafone Warriors link up with the Marist Saints for their community visit at Murray Halberg Park from 4.00pm-6.00pm.
They’ll also join the other 15 squads for an official welcome at Aotea Square on Friday, February 14 (12.30pm-1.45pm) before the tournament is played at Eden Park on February 15 and 16 with a total prize money pool of more than $2.6million.
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Following the Nines, the Vodafone Warriors will focus on their final trial against the Brisbane Broncos at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Sunday, February 23 (3.00pm kick-off).
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Two weeks later the Vodafone Warriors meet Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium in their opening match of the season on Saturday, March 9 (6.30pm kick-off local time) before their first home game against the St George Illawarra Dragons at Eden Park on Saturday, March 15 (5.00pm kick-off). It’s the first of three home games at Eden Park followed by a clash with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on Sunday, April 13 (4.00pm kick-off) and the Canberra Raiders on Saturday, May 10 (5.00pm).
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The Vodafone Warriors’ wider NRL training squad is:
Simon Mannering (c), David Bhana, Jayson Bukuya, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Glen Fisiiahi, Nathan Friend, David Fusitua, Siliva Havili, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Charlie Gubb, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Shaun Johnson, Solomone Kata, Ngani Laumape, Thomas Leuluai, Jacob Lillyman, Kevin Locke, Tuimoala Lolohea, Sam Lousi, Sione Lousi, Suaia Matagi, Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Dane Nielsen, John Palavi, Nathaniel Peteru, Dominique Peyroux, Sam Rapira, Jerome Ropati, Sam Tomkins, Chad Townsend, Carlos Tuimavave, Manu Vatuvei, Albert Vete.