NYC PREVIEW | The final stretch begins
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
2.00pm, Saturday, July 12
Referee: Lawrence McDonnell
The Vodafone Junior Warriors begin the final phase of their bid for the NYC play-offs when they take on Parramatta in today’s 18th-round encounter at Mount Smart Stadium (3.10pm kick-off; match day sponsor: TNT).
After having their two byes in the last four weeks, the seventh-placed Vodafone Junior Warriors now have a run of nine straight regular season games, this the third on end at home before they hit the road again next week.
In late changes to the line-up today, Ken Maumalo will start in the centres after being named in the second row. That results in utility Nathaniel Roache going to the bench with Niukore Marata, originally listed on the interchange, starting in the second row.
A resurgent performance which saw the Vodafone Junior Warriors pile on 30 unanswered second half points against the 2013 premiership-winning Penrith Panthers on June 29 meant they were able to carry winning momentum into last week’s bye.
They emerge from the lay-off with a tough challenge in the shape of the Parramatta Eels. The fourth-placed western Sydney side is also coming off a bye week but entered it in a different fashion, having lost its last two matches.
The Eels were quick out of the blocks in this year’s campaign, though, taking the spoils in eight of their first 10 games. Their hot start began against the Vodafone Junior Warriors, with the Eels racing away to a 50-24 victory at Pirtek Stadium.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors running onto Mount Smart Stadium today is a very different one from the one that played in the opening round, though.
The forward pack is especially different, with hooker Kurt Robinson the only player named this week who played the season’s first game. Robinson is flanked by the established Bunty Afoa and co-captain Sam Lisone as his front row partners this time.
The backline will get a boost with Viliami Kaveinga’s return for the first time this year after his recovery from injury. The winger, a product of the Mangere East Hawks, will join a grouping already laced with try-scoring potential in the likes of Semisi Tyrell, Nathaniel Roache and Metia Lisati.
Mason Lino lines up at halfback, having reached his 400-point milestone against Penrith after a perfect day kicking from the tee. He is joined by Mafoa’aeata Hingano, who will make his 11th appearance of the season.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 VILIAMI KAVEINGA | Kaveinga has been sidelined with a hamstring injury that he sustained in the side’s final regular season match against St George Illawara last September. He’ll provide the backline with a shot in the arm.
#2 METIA LISATI | The winger, whose origins are with the Bay Roskill Vikings, has maintained a high strike rate. In his eight matches this season Lisati has scored eight times, including a try that shifted the momentum against the Panthers in Round 16.
#3 SAM LISONE | ‘Slammin’ Sam’ has been in fine form, particularly during his last outing against the Panthers. In 60 minutes on the field, the co-captain led both teams with 156 total running metres from 15 runs. He also tallied 20 tackles which put him amongst his team’s leaders.
#4 OFAHIKI OGDEN | Ogden had a strong performance a fortnight ago against Penrith with 93 metres, 18 tackles and a try in just 43 minutes. Ogden will once again be coming off the bench today with coach Stacey Jones again hoping for a similar yield.
#5 KEN MAUMALO AND ADAM TUIMAVAVE-GERRARD | Both players make their return to the side after an injury layoff, with Maumalo missing the Panthers game and Tuimavave-Gerrard being out for over a month. Their contributions will be welcomed, as Maumalo has five tries to his name and Tuimavave-Gerrard, his back-row partner, has four.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
1 BRAD ABBEY
2 VILIAMI KAVEINGA
3 SEMISI TYRELL
12 KEN MAUMALO
5 METIA LISATI
6 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
7 MASON LINO (c)
8 IULIO AFOA
9 KURT ROBINSON
10 SAM LISONE (c)
11 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY
15 MARATA NIUKORE
13 ADAM TUIMAVAVE-GERRARD
4 NATHANIEL ROACHE
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
16 PAUL TULI
17 OFAHIKI OGDEN
COACH: STACEY JONES
Live coverage starts on SKY Sport 2 from 3.00pm.