By Richard Becht
Explosive centre Konrad Hurrell is back in the Vodafone Warriors’ starting line-up for the first time this year coming in for the injured Jerome Ropati for Saturday’s fifth-round NRL clash against the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium (3.00pm kick-off local time; 5.00pm NZT).
Returning on an extended bench is back rower Feleti Mateo, who was ruled out of contention with a knee injury for last week’s encounter with Wests Tigers at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Hurrell is the only change to the starting line-up used in the Capital with the luckless Ropati starting another lengthy stint on the sideline after breaking his jaw just 12 minutes into Saturday’s match.
After undergoing surgery in Wellington, Ropati’s return is tipped to be anywhere between six and 12 weeks.
In another selection feature Sione Lousi has been named at loose forward. He has been charged with a grade two dangerous throw offence for a tackle he made on Wests Tigers back rower Cory Paterson. The Vodafone Warriors have entered a guilty plea but have disputed the grading; Lousi’s case will be heard in Sydney on Thursday night.
“We’re naturally hoping Sione will be free to play for us against the Sharks,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott.
If the appeal to have the grading reduced is unsuccessful, Sebastine Ikahihifo is set to come in for his first NRL outing of the year. He has been named on a six-man bench which also includes back rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner, who has been a regular team-mate with Ikahihifo in the club’s New South Wales Cup side so far this season.
Hurrell (22) played mainly in the middle of the park when he made a huge impact in his first outing of the year in the 20-16 win against the Cowboys on March 22.
He was even more influential on the right edge as the Vodafone Warriors surged to a 42-18 win in Wellington, their first in the Capital and also the biggest winning margin in their 12 victories over the Tigers.
In 68 minutes on the field he gave the final pass for three of winger Glen Fisiiahi’s four tries as well as making two line breaks, one leading to the astonishing try Shaun Johnson finished off right on halftime. Stats analysis varied in terms of how much ground he gained, one provider crediting him with 182 metres from 13 runs and another 133 from 11.
While Cronulla go into Saturday’s match at the bottom of the points table – and the only winless team so far - Elliott takes no comfort from the Sharks’ position.
“They’ve had a couple of tight losses and last weekend they happened to come up against a Newcastle side which played with massive passion and intensity following Alex McKinnon’s dreadful injury,” said Elliott.
“We always have the greatest respect for the Sharks. They’re a tough side to play at any time, especially at their place.
“You have a look at their squad and they have plenty of quality players who can hurt you.
“Our challenge is to build on what we’ve achieved. We’ll need to be better again than we have been lately.”
Of the 14 matches the two sides have played at Remondis Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors have won four, the most recent a 37-10 success in 2010.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CRONULLA SHARKS
Remondis Stadium, Cronulla
3.00pm, Saturday, April 5
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 GLEN FISIIAHI
3 DANE NIELSEN
4 KONRAD HURRELL
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 SIONE LOUSI
14 JACOB LILLYMAN
15 SUAIA MATAGI
16 FELETI MATEO
17 THOMAS LEULUAI
20 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
21 RAYMOND FAITALA-MARINER
HEAD COACH: MATTHEW ELLIOTT