VODAFONE WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, June 1
Referees: Gavin Badger and Gavin Reynolds
Halfback Shaun Johnson is a confirmed starter for the Vodafone Warriors’ Mount Smart Stadium homecoming when they face the Newcastle Knights in today’s 12th-round NRL clash (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Canterbury of New Zealand).
Johnson overcame a groin complaint to make his 73rd career appearance against Gold Coast last week only to sit out the last few minutes of the contest with his left ankle in ice.
Doubts he would miss today’s return to Mount Smart eased when Johnson was able to take some part in Wednesday’s field session before he was fully involved in the final two team runs on Thursday and Friday.
Johnson joined Chad Townsend and Tuimoala Lolohea in a goal-kicking session with All Black Dan Carter also involved under the watch of kicking coach Daryl Halligan.
A crowd of more than 17,000 is anticipated for today’s homecoming, a special occasion built around captain Simon Mannering’s career milestones – his 200th NRL appearance and his 100th game as Vodafone Warriors captain.
At a team lunch yesterday Mannering was presented with his special match jersey by his mother Wendy and father Guy.
In another milestone today hooker Nathan Friend will make his 50th appearance for the Vodafone Warriors, his 185th career game.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 SIMON MANNERING | All eyes are on captain Mannering (#MilestoneMannering for a day). A guard of honour will be formed to welcome him onto the field while he has family in the crowd to support him on this special day.
#2 NATHAN FRIEND | The ever-reliable tackling machine is part of the milestone celebrations as he makes his 50th appearance for the club. He has also become a mentor for his future successor and interchange dummy half Siliva Havili.
#3 MOUNT SMART STADIUM | The return to Mount Smart Stadium is a central focus as the Vodafone Warriors mark their first appearance of the season at home. The players are excited to be back.
#4 SAM TOMKINS, CHAD TOWNSEND, JAYSON BUKUYA, DAVID FUSITU’A AND SILIVA HAVILI | The three off-season signings and rookies Fusitu’a and Havili are arguably more excited than anyone because, for all of them, this will be their first experience of playing an NRL game at Mount Smart.
#5 SHAUN JOHNSON | For the second successive game, Johnson plays after being in doubt through injury. Despite his groin complaint last week he scored a wonderful try against Gold Coast.
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
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN
BETTING – WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.30, Newcastle $3.30.
SKY SPORT 2: Live at 4.00pm NZT.