Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has made two squad changes for Sunday’s blockbuster 20th-round NRL clash against the competition-leading Manly Sea Eagles at Mount Smart Stadium (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Suzuki).
After serving a three-game suspension, Ngani Laumape (21) returns on the right wing for his 24th NRL appearance while 163-game veteran prop Sam Rapira is brought onto an extended bench.
Laumape comes in for 19-year-old David Fusitu’a while Rapira, who has missed the last two matches with a back problem, comes onto a five-man interchange for Agnatius Paasi. He joins Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Thomas Leuluai and Jayson Bukuya, who was 18th man for last Saturday’s 22-28 loss to Brisbane.
The Sea Eagles, beaten grand finalists last year, took outright ownership of the competition lead on 28 points with their 21-12 win over St George Illawarra last night.
The only regular season meeting between the seventh-placed Vodafone Warriors and Manly offers a smorgasbord of mouth-watering match-ups.
“It’s exciting for us as a club, for our members and for our fans to have the Sea Eagles here at this time of the season,” said McFadden.
“They’ve been the form team in the competition and bring so much quality with them. It’s a massive challenge for us and a great opportunity to see where we measure up.
“There were aspects of our performance which were disappointing last weekend. In the first half much of the detail which has been good for us wasn’t at the level we expect.”
The head-to-head comparisons in the two starting line-ups are endless.
At fullback it’s Sam Tomkins against Brett Stewart, on one flank Laumape takes on fellow Tongan powerhouse Jorge Taufua while on the other wing Manu Vatuvei clashes with rookie Kiwi international and former Vodafone Junior Warrior Peta Hiku. In the centres it’s Konrad Hurrell v Steve Matai on one side and defensive specialist Dane Nielsen marking the vastly-experienced Jamie Lyon on the other.
The halves pit Kiwi Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend against another Kiwi in Kieran Foran as well as Queensland Origin halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.
At hooker one Queenslander Nathan Friend squares off with another in Matt Ballin while Vodafone Warriors props Jacob Lillyman and Suaia Matagi are set to collide with Brenton Lawrence and Josh Starling.
In the back row the Vodafone Warriors have Simon Mannering, Ben Henry and Sebastine Ikahihifo while Manly has Anthony Watmough, Jamie Buhrer and Tom Symonds.
The Sea Eagles have been one of the Vodafone Warriors’ most difficult opponents with just eight wins in 25 encounters and only two victories in the last 12 games.
The last time the two sides had a Mount Smart Stadium contest in June last year the Vodafone Warriors won a thriller 18-16, ending a run of six straight losses to Manly stretching back to the 26-24 success at Brookvale Oval when Stacey Jones made his comeback in 2009.
Sunday’s programme again features a tripleheader with the fifth-placed Vodafone Warriors taking on Manly in the New South Wales Cup at 11.40am followed by the NYC encounter between the two clubs at 1.45pm.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, July 27
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 NGANI LAUMAPE
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 JAYSON BUKUYA
17 THOMAS LEULUAI
20 SAM RAPIRA
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN