Vodafone Junior Warriors coach Stacey Jones is banking on having two of his established frontline players back for Sunday’s NYC grand final against the Brisbane Broncos at ANZ Stadium (1.50pm kick-off local time, 3.50pm NZT).
Jones was without fullback Brad Abbey (hip) and winger Metia Lisati (hamstring) for the side’s sensational last-second 29-26 win over Parramatta in last Saturday night’s preliminary final.
They were initially named last week but Abbey failed to recover quickly enough from his injury while Lisati strained his hamstring in the team’s final field session on the eve of the encounter.
Jones switched the experienced Tuimoala Lolohea from standoff to fullback and brought back rookie 17-year-old Ata Hingano in the halves while Paul Ulberg, another newcomer this season, replaced Lisati.
Also unavailable last week was second rower Marata Niukore (bereavement leave). He was replaced by the experienced Michael Ki, who has played in the club’s New South Wales Cup and NYC sides this season.
Abbey and Lisati have both been named in an extended squad with a final decision on the line-up to be made later in the week.
Abbey, the team’s top try-scorer with 14, hadn’t missed a game until last week while Lisati had made 18 appearances.
Co-captains Mason Lino and Sam Lisone have individual milestones to play for in what will be their final career appearances in the NYC.
The grand final will fittingly be the inspirational Lisone’s 50th NYC game enabling him to join 11 other players who have previously reached the mark for the club since the competition began in 2008. The list of 50-game players to date is: Ben Henry (64), John Palavi (63), Mason Lino (61), Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard (57), Siliva Havili (57), Ngataua Hukatai (53), Elijah Taylor (52), Nafe Seluini (52), Carlos Tuimavave (51), Omar Slaimankhel (51) and Siuatonga Likiliki (50).
Lino last week passed 200 points in a season for the first time after tallying 144 points in 2012 and 147 last year. He also set a new NYC record for most goals (213 plus three field goals) and needs just seven points in the grand final to become only the second player to score 500 in an NYC career (Kyle Feldt has the record with 570). He’ll finish with 62 appearances, third behind Henry and Palavi.
The team's co-leaders again played integral roles in last week’s win against the Eels.
Lisone has arguably been the player of the NYC finals so far. He was dominant in the middle of the park against Parramatta with 161 metres from 15 runs adding seven tackle breaks, two off loads, a line break, two line break assists and a try. The previous week against Newcastle, Lisone clocked up 201 metres from 12 runs and also made 28 tackles while in the first finals win he scored two tries against the Roosters.
Last week Lino scored 13 points from a try, four conversions and a field goal while he also made 20 tackles. In the week two win over the Knights he kicked three of four attempts at goal, slotted a vital field goal and added 22 tackles while he kicked six of eight attempts for 12 points in the 44-30 win against the Roosters.
Lisone, Lino and their team-mates have clocked up plenty of air points lately. This will be their fifth Trans-Tasman trip in as many weeks having played their final regular season match away against Penrith followed by four straight play-offs in Sydney. They had the same schedule last year, a programme eight of this year’s grand final team experienced.
This will be the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ 20th finals game since the competition began; it’s their second consecutive grand final and their fourth appearance in a title decider in five years. They’ve won 14 of those 20 matches.
Live coverage of the Vodafone Juniors Warriors v Brisbane Broncos grand final starts on SKY Sport 2 at 3.50pm NZT on Sunday.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS – NYC FINALS RECORD
2008 St George Illawarra Won 47-20
Penrith Won 38-4
Brisbane Lost 26-28
2009 St George Illawarra Lost 24-48
2010 Manly Won 25-22
Canterbury-Bankstown Won 23-16
South Sydney Won 42-28 (grand final)
2011 Newcastle Won 54-6
Canterbury-Bankstown Won 64-0
North Queensland Won 31-30 (grand final)
2012 Canberra Lost 38-39
Sydney Roosters Lost 10-26
2013 South Sydney Won 20-18
Sydney Roosters Won 58-6
Canterbury-Bankstown Won 54-38
Penrith Lost 30-42 (grand final)
2014 Sydney Roosters Won 44-30
Newcastle Won 23-16
Parramatta Won 29-26
(2) BRISBANE BRONCOS v (8) VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
1.50pm, Sunday, October 5
Referees: Chris Butler and Chris Sutton
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
1 BRAD ABBEY
2 NGATAUA HUKATAI
3 NATHANIEL ROACHE
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 METIA LISATI
6 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
7 MASON LINO (c)
8 SAM LISONE (c)
9 KURT ROBINSON
10 KOUMA SAMSON
11 MICHAEL KI
12 ADAM TUIMAVAVE-GERRARD
13 JAZZ TEVAGA
14 JAMES BELL
15 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY
16 KEN MAUMALO
17 IULIO AFOA
18 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
20 OFAHIKI OGDEN
COACH: STACEY JONES