Gisborne is counting down to its first taste of NRL football as the Vodafone Warriors prepare for their 14th-round New South Wales Cup clash against Cronulla at Rugby Park on Saturday (3.00pm kick-off).
As many as seven players with NRL experience are expected to be named in the club’s travelling squad tomorrow while the Sharks will also boast several players who have appeared at first-grade level.
“The opportunity to have the Vodafone Warriors and the Cronulla Sharks in Gisborne is tremendous,” said event organiser Gisborne mayor Meng Foon.
“It’s important for our community to show up in force as other national sporting organisations are looking at Gisborne and eyeing up more provincial games and events.”
The Vodafone Warriors had five NRL players in their line-up against Canterbury-Bankstown on Saturday with former Queensland Origin representative Dane Nielsen and Dominique Peyroux in the centres, Carlos Tuimavave at standoff, Upu Poching at prop and John Palavi at loose forward.
After filling the 18th man role for the NRL side in Perth, front rower Charles Gubb is another player with NRL experience set to play in Gisborne along with new Kiwi hooker Siliva Havili. The NRL rookie was used for only minutes in the Vodafone Warriors’ 18-34 loss to South Sydney in Perth on Saturday night.
As well as representing the Kiwis, Havili appeared for Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup while other Vodafone Warriors NSW Cup regulars Michael Sio (Toa Samoa), Dominique Peyroux (Cook Islands and Toa Samoa) and Tuimavave (Toa Samoa) have also played international football.
Also returning to the line-up in the halves will be Tuimoala Lolohea, one of the club’s top prospects recently signed on a three-year contract to the end of the 2017 season. Lolohea represented the Vodafone Warriors in the inaugural NRL Auckland Nines in February along with Peyroux, Tuimavave, winger Solomone Kata and back rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Cronulla’s New South Wales Cup squad includes players who have represented both the Sharks and Melbourne at NRL level, among them Mahe Fonua, Dayne Weston, Michael Lichaa and Penani Manumalealii, who scored three tries in Toa Samoa’s Test victory over Fiji Bati last month.
The Vodafone Warriors are sixth on the ladder after their loss to the Bulldogs last weekend while the Sharks are one point behind them following a 22-23 defeat by Illawarra.