The Vodafone Junior Warriors’ playing depth faces an acid test when they bid for a third straight win in their fifth-round NYC encounter with the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium today (10.40am kick-off local time; 12.40pm NZT).
The two teams are both on four points with two win-two loss records sitting just outside the top eight, the Vodafone Junior Warriors ninth and the Sharks 10th.
The difference is current form with the Vodafone Junior Warriors going into the game on the back of successive wins over North Queensland and Wests Tigers while Cronulla has lost to St George Illawarra by four points and suffered a humiliating 10-56 reverse to Newcastle last weekend.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors will, however, take a much-changed line-up into the contest.
They had the impressive David Fusitua and Tuimoala Lolohea for their first win of the year against the Cowboys, a match in which they each scored hat-tricks.
They both played up a level with the club’s New South Wales Cup side against Wests Tigers last week but the Vodafone Junior Warriors still backed up with a 26-24 victory in their NYC match.
However, they’ll be without more key performers against the Sharks.
Sam Lisone, who has won the players’ player of the day award in two of the last three matches, moves up into the NSW Cup competition this week while injuries have stripped coach Stacey Jones of prop James Taylor and centre Lafu Feagaiga. Lisone was exceptional last week, making 233 metres from 19 runs.
There’s a change in the halves with Mafoa’aeata Hingano, who turned 17 on March 11, making his debut at standoff. A Pakuranga Jaguars junior and Pakuranga College product, he will team up with experienced captain Mason Lino. He’s the second 17-year-old to debut for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in as many weeks after Ofahiki Ogden made his first appearance against the Tigers.
CRONULLA SHARKS v VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
Remondis Stadium, Cronulla
10.40am, Saturday, April 5
Referee: Matt Noyen and Ziggy Przeklaski-Adamski
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 MICHAEL KI | He might have the shortest surname going around but he made a real name for himself against the Tigers last week. His hat-trick was a standout feature and so were his other stats, making 161 metres from 16 runs, six tackle breaks, four off loads, two line breaks and 23 tackles.
#2 KOUMA SAMSON | With Sam Lisone playing in the New South Wales Cup and James Taylor injured, Samson moves into the front row after starting at loose forward recently. He made a big impact last week, carrying the ball 153 metres from 16 runs and also making 27 tackles.
#3 MASON LINO | The side’s general will be looking to continue his own good form this season. He finished with three try assists and a line break assist in last week’s win against Wests Tigers. He has 44 points already this season and today plays his 46th NYC match.
#4 BUNTY AFOA | Once again the ex-St Paul’s College star starts in the front row where he has impressed with his fearless carries. Topped 100 metres against North Queensland and made 65 metres from just seven runs against Wests Tigers.
#5 WINNING AGAIN? | After losing two straight the Vodafone Junior Warriors rebounded with successive victories. A third win on the bounce would push them into the top eight, a fair achievement considering the number of injuries and team changes coach Stacey Jones has been forced to make so far.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
1 BRAD ABBEY
2 METIA LISATI
3 GEORGE EDWARDS
4 KEN MAUMALO
5 BRAXTON STANLEY
6 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
7 MASON LINO (c)
8 IULIO AFOA
9 KURT ROBINSON
10 KOUMA SAMSON
11 MICHAEL KI
12 MASON TONKS
13 ADAM TUIMAVAVE-GERRARD
14 OFAHIKI OGDEN
15 JORDAN BALDWINSON
16 JAZZ TEVAGA
17 KATAMIRO ATERA
COACH: STACEY JONES