Veteran prop Sam Rapira makes his comeback from a month-long lay-off for the Vodafone Warriors’ ‘Return to Mount Smart’ 12th-round NRL encounter with Newcastle on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Canterbury of New Zealand).
His first outing since the 16-10 Anzac Day win over Melbourne coincides with a red letter day for his long-time team-mate and captain Simon Mannering who will make his 200th NRL appearance and 100th as captain in the first home game of the year at Mount Smart Stadium.
Rapira has missed the last three matches with a back complaint but has been cleared to make his return this week, being named on the interchange bench.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has retained the same backline used in last Saturday’s 24-16 win against Gold Coast, including naming halfback Shaun Johnson who is in doubt with his injured left ankle.
“Shaun is still 50-50. We’ll give him until Thursday or Friday and, if he’s not fit, Tuimoala (Lolohea) will make his debut,” he said.
“The good thing is Tui has been training with us. Last week was good preparation because right up until the last minute he thought he was in the side to play Gold Coast.”
While welcoming Rapira back, McFadden hasn’t named utility Ben Henry who has been troubled by some stiffness in his left knee.
“It’s really important having Sam back. He’s one of our captains, he’s fully fit and he’s ready to go in an important game for us this week,” said McFadden.
“Ben has had a flare-up with his old knee injury. He’s possibly a chance but we’ll probably rest him which allows us to push Ben (Matulino) into the second row.”
Suaia Matagi is named to start in the front row with the other three bench players used against the Titans – Siliva Havili, Feleti Mateo and Sebastine Ikahihifo – joining Rapira.
Apart from Henry, McFadden said Kevin Locke wasn’t available after being ruled out last week with an ankle injury.
The Vodafone Warriors will take a 50-50 record into the second half of the regular season if they overcome the Knights on Sunday for their sixth win of the year.
McFadden encouraged Vodafone Warriors members and fans to support the first home game of the season at Mount Smart Stadium, even more so because it is such a significant occasion for Mannering with his 200-100 double.
“I hope we get a big crowd because it would be a fitting tribute to Simon,” he said.
“He has stood out in my time here as a leader. He’s a true warrior, so to speak, and deserves all the support for the contribution he makes to this club.”
The Vodafone Warriors have built a healthy record against Newcastle winning 12 out of 16 encounters between the two clubs since 2005 and six out of the last seven; the only reverse has been the 19-24 loss at Mount Smart Stadium in 2012.
The record over the last 10 seasons contrasts with the 10 seasons from 1995-2004 when the Vodafone Warriors won just two out of 14 with one match drawn.
Sunday’s match is fan favourite Nathan Friend’s 50th for the club.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, June 1
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 NGANI LAUMAPE
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 SUAIA MATAGI
11 JAYSON BUKUYA
12 BEN MATULINO
13 SIMON MANNERING (c)
14 SILIVA HAVILI
15 SAM RAPIRA
16 FELETI MATEO
17 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
18 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
20 AGNATIUS PAASI
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN