Halfback Shaun Johnson and centre Konrad Hurrell will both miss the Vodafone Warriors’ 22nd-round NRL clash against the Cronulla Sharks at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Bendon Man).
Johnson will out for his third game on end with a groin injury while a hamstring strain will keep Hurrell on the sideline.
Hurrell, who turned 23 today, was replaced at halftime in last Sunday’s 54-18 win over the Raiders at GIO Stadium in Canberra.
In his absence Ngani Laumape will move in from the right wing to start in the centres while 18-year-old Tuimoala Lolohea has been promoted from his bench role in his first two NRL appearances to fill Laumape’s spot on the wing.
“It hasn’t been the ideal week after picking up a few bumps and bruises against the Raiders,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“Konrad has a slight hamstring strain which we don’t think is too bad and we’ll give Shaun another week. We’re hoping they’ll both be available the following week.
“It means Tui will start for us on the wing. While he’s a little inexperienced in the position, we saw what he can do last weekend so we’re really happy to give him this opportunity. There’s no doubting his ability.”
As he did against Manly and Canberra the highly-experienced Thomas Leuluai will start at halfback. Having his third game back from his injury, Leuluai came up with three try assists and three line break assists against Canberra.
The forward pack is the same as the one that opened up against the Raiders with Sione Lousi again in the second row; he had the first of the Vodafone Warriors’ 10 tries in just the third minute on Sunday.
It continued a trend of early strikes in each of the side’s recent games with Hurrell scoring in the second minute against Manly, Simon Mannering in the third minute against Brisbane, David Fusitu’a after three minutes against Parramatta and Hurrell after three against Penrith.
In beating the Raiders, the Vodafone Warriors ended a run of nine consecutive losses at Canberra Stadium (GIO Stadium) since 1997.
The Sharks also present a significant challenge having won the last five matches between the two sides since the Vodafone Warriors won in Taupo in 2011. The last time the Vodafone Warriors triumphed at Mount Smart Stadium was a 30-16 victory in 2010 when Mannering debuted as the club’s new captain.
The Vodafone Warriors are back inside the top eight going into this clash against the bottom-placed Sharks. They were seventh for more than 24 hours before the Storm’s win against Wests Tigers last night pushed them back to eighth.
With their record points haul in Canberra (54), the Vodafone Warriors are the NRL’s leading attacking side with 473 points including 86 tries.
With his sixth career hat-trick last Sunday, winger Manu Vatuvei now ranks in the top 20 of all-time try-scorers with 131 tries in 189 matches including 17 in his last 20 matches. He has also helped himself to 12 tries in his last five games against the Raiders. He leads the club’s try scorers with 13 in 18 games this season while Hurrell has 11, fullback Sam Tomkins 10, Mannering nine and Johnson eight.
Ben Matulino will again come off the bench for his 148th NRL appearance on Sunday leaving him in line to play his 150th game when the Vodafone Warriors host the Sydney Roosters on August 24.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CRONULLA SHARKS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, August 10
Referees: Adam Devcich and Grant Atkins
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
3 NGANI LAUMAPE
4 DANE NIELSEN
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 THOMAS LEULUAI
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 SUAIA MATAGI
11 SIONE LOUSI
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
14 FELETI MATEO
15 BEN MATULINO
16 SAM RAPIRA
17 JAYSON BUKUYA
18 BEN HENRY
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN