By Richard Becht
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has made four changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s 11th-round encounter with Gold Coast in Robina (5.30pm local time; 7.30pm NZT).
After two games starting in the second row, Ben Matulino is back in the front row with Ben Henry coming out of the centres to take Matulino’s place in the back row.
Henry’s spot in the centres goes to Ngani Laumape, who was used on the wing against Canberra and Canterbury-Bankstown, with Kevin Locke shifted off the bench for his first start of the season on the right wing.
Back in the squad on a five-man bench is debutant Kiwi hooker Siliva Havili after two appearances with the club’s New South Wales Cup side.
He’s included with prop Suaia Matagi, back rower Feleti Mateo, utility Sebastine Ikahihifo and prop Nathaniel Peteru.
“Ben (Henry) has been doing a great job for us in the centres but just for the dynamic of our team I wanted to push Ben Matulino back into the front row. He’ll still have a roaming role,” said McFadden.
“For Kevin, it’s a great opportunity for him to get back and play 80 minutes. He still gives us that versatility.
“With Siliva I think it’s time to give him another crack. He’s certainly the future of the club.”
After the hard-fought 12-16 loss to the Bulldogs, McFadden is wary of a wounded Gold Coast side coming off back-to-back losses to South Sydney (18-40) and Brisbane (8-22). Despite the defeats the Titans still sit seventh on the ladder 12 points, four ahead of the Vodafone Warriors.
“They’re a quality side and a gritty side. We have to prepare well to put together the performance we expect of ourselves,” he said.
“Our effort was great against the Bulldogs but our execution needs to improve.”
The Vodafone Warriors have built up a strong record against the Titans over the last three seasons. After losing six in a row to them in 2008, 2009 and 2010 they have won the last six across the last three years although the margins in both clashes last year were just one point in Auckland and two points in Robina.
Captain Simon Mannering will move within one match of two major milestones, making his 199th NRL appearance and his 100th game as captain. It leaves him set to achieve the twin landmarks in what is his 10th NRL season and the club’s 20th in existence when the Vodafone Warriors meet Newcastle in their first home game of the year at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday, June 1.
Recently re-signed hooker Nathan Friend will make his 49th appearance for the Vodafone Warriors since arriving from the Titans.
While utility forward Sione Lousi is sidelined after being forced off the field on Sunday with a knee injury, his outlook is far more positive than first feared. Scans have eliminated another serious injury to the right knee he had surgery on last year. It’s expected he will be back in three to four weeks.
Veteran prop Jacob Lillyman will line up after the disappointment of missing out on selection in Queensland’s side for the opening State of Origin match.
“It’s very disappointing for Jake,” said McFadden.
“His form over the whole season has been great. He’ll knuckle down and play well for the team. There’ll still be two other games after that that he’ll be pushing for.”
The Vodafone Warriors leave for Gold Coast on Thursday.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS
Cbus Super Stadium, Robina
5.30pm, Saturday, May 24
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 KEVIN LOCKE
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 NGANI LAUMAPE
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 BEN MATULINO
11 JAYSON BUKUYA
12 BEN HENRY
13 SIMON MANNERING (c)
14 SILIVA HAVILI
15 SUAIA MATAGI
16 FELETI MATEO
17 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
18 NATHANIEL PETERU
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN