Former Queensland State of Origin representative Dane Nielsen has been brought into the centres for the Vodafone Warriors’ 16th-round NRL encounter with second-placed Penrith at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: DEWALT).
With incumbent Ngani Laumape facing suspension on a grade three dangerous throw charge, Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has confirmed a return for Nielsen (29) after last appearing against St George Illawarra on April 19.
The 103-game veteran’s recall for his eighth NRL appearance this year follows five outings for the Vodafone Warriors’ New South Wales Cup side.
The forced Nielsen-for-Laumape swap is the only change McFadden has made to the line-up used in the 19-10 win over Brisbane, a result which has lifted the Vodafone Warriors to 10th on the table. They’re alone on 16 points just behind four teams on 18 points (Brisbane, Melbourne, Parramatta and Wests Tigers) filling sixth to ninth.
“With Ngani on the sideline, Dane has his chance to play in the NRL again,” said McFadden.
“He has been working hard on his game in the New South Wales Cup. He gives our left edge plenty of experience and we’ll certainly need it against a Penrith side that has been travelling really well this season.
“This is going to be a massive challenge for us. We’ll have to improve in a big way on our overall performance against the Broncos.”
Nielsen’s selection for Laumape sees the same bench of Feleti Mateo, Suaia Matagi, Ben Henry and Charlie-Paul Gubb.
Playing in their 2014 Women in League jersey, the Vodafone Warriors will seek to take their record into the black for the first time on Sunday – eight wins and seven losses – but face a Panthers side which beat them both home and away last year.
Manu Vatuvei, named the players’ player of the day after the Brisbane win, makes his 185th career appearance this week, drawing level with Lance Hohaia on the club’s all-time list. Only Stacey Jones (261), Simon Mannering (202) and Logan Swann (195) have played more games for the Vodafone Warriors.
While he didn’t add to his record career try tally of 127, Vatuvei was inspirational throughout the contest, with 14 tough carries – mostly out of defence – for 148 metres. What really lifted the side was the series of four consecutive offensive tackles he made early in the second half.
He also stood out for another reason with his hair and beard turned gold after he was forced to bleach them as a team punishment.
Also nearing a milestone is centre Konrad Hurrell who will play his 49th match on Sunday.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, June 29
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 DANE NIELSEN
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 SAM RAPIRA
11 JAYSON BUKUYA
12 SIMON MANNERING (C)
13 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
14 FELETI MATEO
15 SUAIA MATAGI
16 BEN HENRY
17 CHARLIE-PAUL GUBB
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN