VODAFONE WARRIORS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, July 27
Referees: Ben Cummins and Chris James
A groin injury has ruled playmaker Shaun Johnson out of the Vodafone Warriors’ blockbuster 20th-round NRL clash against competition leader Manly at Mount Smart Stadium today (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Suzuki).
The 79-game NRL halfback was rated a doubtful starter after pulling up with the injury late in the team’s final run yesterday.
This will be the first time he has been missing from the line-up since the end of the 2012 season.
He was withdrawn today opening the way for the gifted 19-year-old Tuimoala Lolohea his NRL debut.
Lolohea, who has spent most of the year playing for the club’s New South Wales Cup side, appeared for the Vodafone Warriors at the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park in February and was on the cusp of stepping up to the NRL earlier in the campaign. He becomes Vodafone Warrior No 192.
Johnson isn’t the only withdrawal from the original line-up. Also ruled out is ball-playing back rower Feleti Mateo, who pulled out of training with a calf injury on Tuesday and hasn’t recovered.
With Johnson out, veteran Thomas Leulaui will start at halfback teaming up with Chad Townsend while Lolohea is on the bench. The other interchange players are Ben Matulino, Jayson Bukuya and Sam Rapira; Bukuya missed last week’s clash against Brisbane while Rapira has been out for last two games.
The Vodafone Warriors have slipped a place to eighth on the table after the roll-coaster run of results so far this round.
Three of the top five sides have been beaten. Penrith lost 16-18 to Cronulla last night, Canterbury-Bankstown fell 12-20 at home to North Queensland and the Sydney Roosters lost 12-16 to Newcastle on Friday night. Brisbane also slumped to a heavy 8-30 home defeat against Melbourne.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 SIMON MANNERING | The captain has been in exceptional form yet again this season and especially over the last two months scoring seven tries in the last seven games and eight for the season so far.
#2 THOMAS LEULUAI | Just one game into his second comeback from injury this season, Leuluai assumes the mantle as the side’s key playmaker with Shaun Johnson ruled out.
#3 SAM RAPIRA | The veteran prop beefs up the interchange bench making his return from a two-match absence. He makes his 164th career appearance and his 13th of the season.
#4 NGANI LAUMAPE | In his first game back from a three-match suspension, Laumape faces a challenging afternoon marking up against Manly’s dangerous left edge featuring Steve Matai.
#5 DANE NIELSEN | Another big defensive assignment awaits the former Queensland Origin centre as he lines up against Manly’s outstanding Jamie Lyon. This is his fourth straight appearance since returning to the side.
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 NGANI LAUMAPE
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 DANE NIELSEN
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
17 THOMAS LEULUAI
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 SUAIA MATAGI
11 BEN HENRY
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
15 BEN MATULINO
16 JAYSON BUKUYA
18 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
20 SAM RAPIRA
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN
BETTING – WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.95, Manly $1.80
SKY SPORT 2: Live at 4.00pm.