Warriors' Sam Tomkins congratulates Shaun Johnson after his try. Day Two of the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Sunday 16th February 2014. Photo: www.photosport.co.nz

NRL PREVIEW | Return to Eden

Eden Park was the place to be for rugby league fans at the NRL Nines a month ago and now it’s back on the scene again for the real deal 13-a-side version of the game.

 

The Vodafone Warriors meet St George Illawarra on Saturday (5.05pm kick-off) in the first of three home games at the stadium.

 

It follows one-off games in 2011 (Parramatta), 2012 (Manly) and 2013 (Sydney Roosters) which drew the three biggest home crowds in the Vodafone Warriors’ history.

 

 

VODAFONE WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

 

Eden Park, Auckland

5.05pm, Saturday, March 15

Referees: Jared Maxwell and Grant Atkins

 

 

FIVE KEY FEATURES

 

#1 JEROME ROPATI: No player deserves a better run of luck than Ropati as he lines up for his first game in his 12th season in the NRL. Injuries have ruined his last three seasons. After featuring in trials against Wigan and Brisbane, he comes into the centres on the right edge for what will be his 143rd career appearance.

 

#2 BEN HENRY: Like Ropati, he had a wretched 2013 when he was sidelined for most of the year following knee surgery. He made his comeback for the Vodafone Warriors in the New South Wales Cup last Saturday, playing at standoff and scoring a try against Wentworthville. He has been named on the bench.

 

#3 SAM RAPIRA, BEN MATULINO, JACOB LILLYMAN AND SUAIA MATAGI:  United in their mission to get the team rolling forward from the outset against the Dragons. Matulino (126 metres from 15 runs) and Lillyman (123 metres from 15 runs) had plenty of work with the ball against Parramatta while Rapira and Matagi had a much heavier defensive workload making 28 tackles each with only three misses between them.

 

#4 NATHAN FRIEND: Started 2014 where he left off in 2013 shouldering plenty of the tackling duties against the Eels. He was right up to his average with 46 in all. Played the full 80 minutes and handled the ball more than any other player on the field with 93 receives.

 

#5 FELETI MATEO: His involvement in the game will be a key to the Vodafone Warriors’ fortunes. Mateo will again be injected into the game from the bench looking to spark his side up later in the first half.  

 

 

TEAMS

 

 

VODAFONE WARRIORS

 

1 SAM TOMKINS

2 GLEN FISIIAHI

3 DANE NIELSEN

4 JEROME ROPATI

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

Interchange:

14 JACOB LILLYMAN

15 SUAIA MATAGI

16 BEN HENRY

17 FELETI MATEO

20 SIONE LOUSI

 

HEAD COACH: MATTHEW ELLIOTT

 

 

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

 

1 ADAM QUINLAN

2 BRETT MORRIS

3 DYLAN FARRELL

4 GERARD BEALE

5 JASON NIGHTINGALE

6 GARETH WIDDOP

7 SAM WILLIAMS

8 TYSON FRIZELL

9 MITCH REIN

10 DAN HUNT

11 LEESON AH MAU

12 BEN CREAGH (c)

13 TRENT MERRIN

Interchange:

14 BRONSON HARRISON

15 KYLE STANLEY

16 JOEL THOMPSON

17 MIKE COOPER

 

COACH: STEVE PRICE

 

 

BETTING – WWW.TAB.CO.NZ

 

FIND ODDS FOR VODAFONE WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

 

Head to head:

Vodafone Warriors $1.30 v Dragons $3.30

 

 

TV COVERAGE

 

SKY SPORT 2: Coverage starts at 4.30pm, kick-off 5.05pm.