Ben Matulino made his return from injury last week and now the experienced Thomas Leuluai has been confirmed for his comeback appearance in another boost as the Vodafone Warriors prepare to face Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday (7.30pm kick-off local time; 9.30pm NZT).
The 29-year-old has been named on the interchange for what will be his 50th NRL appearance for the club more than 11 years after his debut in 2003.
While head coach Andrew McFadden has recalled Leuluai after a three-month lay-off he has also handed an NRL debut to New South Wales Cup regular and ex-Vodafone Junior Warrior Agnatius Paasi; the 22-year-old prop-second rower will become Vodafone Warrior No 191, the seventh player to make his first appearance for the club this year.
“We’re really happy to have Thomas back in the mix,” said McFadden.
“He has been letting us know he’s been ready for the last two or three weeks but we are just making sure he’s ready to come back (from his groin injury).
“He’ll be having some time in the dummy half role against Brisbane and he’ll also give us cover in the halves.
“Bringing Agnatius in for his debut is really exciting for us. He’s been impressive for our New South Wales Cup side and has worked hard for this opportunity.
“It’s tough on Charlie (Gubb) and Sam (Lousi) but Aganatius deserves to have his chance in first grade.”
For Leuluai, Saturday night’s clash will be his 29th game in his second stint with the Vodafone Warriors after he played 21 times in 2003 and 2004 before spending the next eight seasons in the English Super League with the London Broncos and Wigan.
Seasoned Kiwi international Leuluai was on the field for every minute of the Vodafone Warriors’ 24 matches last year – a total of 1920 minutes – before a groin complaint (osteitis pubis) ruined his Rugby League World Cup campaign.
After a slow recovery Leuluai returned for the Vodafone Warriors’ fourth-round victory over Wests Tigers in April. He also appeared in the next three matches against Cronulla, Canterbury-Bankstown and St George Illawarra before being side-lined again.
Mangere East junior Paasi, another St Paul’s College product, was in the club’s NYC premiership-winning side in 2011, going on to play New South Wales Cup football for the now-defunct Auckland Vulcans.
He was signed on an NSW Cup contract with the Vodafone Warriors this season. Making his 14th appearance of the season last Saturday, he excelled in the 30-6 win over Wentworthville with more runs (16) and metres (140) than any forward on the park as well as 29 tackles.
Paasi and Leuluai join Matulino and Feleti Mateo on the bench while second rower Jayson Bukuya, who missed the Parramatta match, is the fifth player named on the interchange.
The Vodafone Warriors beat Brisbane 19-10 at Mount Smart Stadium on June 21. They were four points behind the Broncos on the ladder going into that contest but with that victory, subsequent wins against Penrith and Parramatta plus a bye they have collected eight points to move to sixth spot on 22 points. Brisbane is just two points behind in seventh place.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v BRISBANE BRONCOS
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
7.30pm, Saturday, July 19
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 SUAIA MATAGI
11 BEN HENRY
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
14 FELETI MATEO
15 BEN MATULINO
16 AGNATIUS PAASI
17 THOMAS LEULUAI
18 JAYSON BUKUYA
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN