Manu Vatuvei, Konrad Hurrell and Sione Lousi have all been named for the Vodafone Warriors’ third-round clash against North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday night.
Vatuvei missed last Saturday’s encounter with St George Illawarra through injury and illness while Hurrell again turned out for the club’s New South Wales Cup side and Lousi was on bereavement leave following the death of his grandmother.
After scoring his 119th career try in the opening round against Parramatta, the 28-year-old Vatuvei comes back into the line-up for last weekend’s debutant David Fusitua.
Hurrell and Lousi have both been included on a five-man interchange bench.
In the only other change to the starting line-up, Feleti Mateo has been named at loose forward with John Palavi, the starting No 13 in the first two matches, going to the bench alongside Hurrell, Lousi, Jacob Lillyman and Suaia Matagi.
“Koni has been doing all that has been asked of him,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott.
“I thought he was by far the best player on the field in the New South Wales Cup match last week. He had something like 20 carries and his energy in defence was great.
“He has worked really hard on his fitness which was what had put him behind some people at the start of the season.”
Saturday night’s match will coincide with a special achievement for captain Simon Mannering. He’s not given to taking special notice of personal milestones but this week he is set to lead the Vodafone Warriors for the 91st time, equalling Steve Price’s record for most games as captain for the club. Price’s record spanned five seasons from 2005-2009 while Mannering has only just started his fifth campaign as skipper.
Mannering is on target to take the record outright in next week’s encounter with Wests Tigers in Wellington, briefly his home before signing with the Vodafone Warriors.
Also close to a landmark moment is centre Dane Nielsen who is in line to play his 99th NRL match this week.
After facing their most difficult opponent in St George Illawarra last Saturday, the Vodafone Warriors now eye one of the NRL’s most challenging away venues.
They won in Townsville four times in their first six visits between 1995 and 2002 but haven’t had success there since falling to eight straight defeats.
While the Vodafone Warriors have started their season with two losses, props Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman have been the standout individuals so far. In both games they’ve easily gained more than 100 metres each.
Former Cowboy Lillyman was named the players’ player of day after topping 120 metres from 15 runs against the Eels while Matulino was singled out as the team’s best last week. NRL Stats credited him with 162 metres from 19 runs while NRLPro had him making 134 metres from 18 runs.
The Vodafone Warriors trained yesterday and today, have a rest day tomorrow and fly out of Auckland early on Thursday for Townsville via Brisbane. They’ll train there on Friday.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
8.00pm, Saturday, March 22
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 FELETI MATEO
14 JACOB LILLYMAN
15 SUAIA MATAGI
16 SIONE LOUSI
17 JOHN PALAVI
20 KONRAD HURRELL
HEAD COACH: MATTHEW ELLIOTT