By Richard Becht
Former Vodafone Junior Warriors captain John Palavi and new signing Sam Tomkins will make their NRL debuts when the Vodafone Warriors launch their 2014 campaign against Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday (8.30pm kick-off NZT, 6.30pm local time).
As well as Tomkins, fellow newcomers Chad Townsend and Jayson Bukuya will also have their first NRL appearances for the Vodafone Warriors.
After being close to making his NRL debut when he was used as 18th man while still NYC-eligible in 2012, Palavi was today confirmed to start against the Eels at loose forward. He comes Vodafone Warrior No 188.
Ex-Wigan superstar Tomkins will start at fullback while ex-Sharks team-mates Townsend and Bukuya also have starting roles, Townsend at stand-off and Bukuya in the second row. Tomkins becomes No 185, Townsend No 186 and Bukuya No 187.
Selection is a major career breakthrough for former St Paul’s College head prefect Palavi (21), whose 64-game NYC career spanned four seasons. He spent last year as a regular for the Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup.
“JP deserves his spot,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott.
“If you had told me last year that he was going to be our starting lock for this game I would probably have disagreed with you but he has performed right through the preseason.
“His influence on players around him and what he did during the trial process was impressive.”
After missing the opening trial and against Gold Coast, Palavi started at loose forward against Wigan and Brisbane.
Tomkins and Bukuya both appeared in the Nines as well as the Brisbane trial while Townsend was used against Wigan and the Broncos.
Also earning a starting spot through his trials and Nines efforts is centre Carlos Tuimavave, who’ll line up on the right edge. He has been chosen ahead of Konrad Hurrell.
“Selecting Carlos was a tough call on Konrad,” said Elliott.
“Konrad played really hard against the Broncos but Carlos was impressive in the Nines and then in Dunedin putting on two tries and getting one himself.”
After missing the trials, veteran Manu Vatuvei is naming on the left wing for his 172nd career appearance and Dane Nielsen, another player who didn’t appear in the trials, is in the centres for his 97th first-grade match.
Bukuya joins captain Simon Mannering in the second row, Mannering playing his 189th NRL match and his 89th as captain, just two short of Steve Price’s club record of 91 games in charge.
Elliott has settled on one of the biggest benches the Vodafone Warriors have had with props Jacob Lillyman and Suaia Matagi joined by Feleti Mateo and Sione Lousi. Selection is a personal triumph for Lousi who regains a place on the NRL stage after missing the whole 2013 campaign. He was able to play just a few minutes of the opening trial against the Titans before being sidelined with an ACL knee injury.
The Vodafone Warriors will fly to Sydney on Friday for the Parramatta match before returning for their first home match of the season against St George Illawarra at Eden Park on Saturday, March 15 (5.00pm kick-off).
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS
Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta
6.30pm, Sunday, March 09
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 GLEN FISIIAHI
3 DANE NIELSEN
4 CARLOS TUIMAVAVE
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 SAM RAPIRA
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 BEN MATULINO
11 JAYSON BUKUYA
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 JOHN PALAVI
14 JACOB LILLYMAN
15 SUAIA MATAGI
16 SIONE LOUSI
17 FELETI MATEO
18 JEROME ROPATI
HEAD COACH: MATTHEW ELLIOTT