A hamstring injury has ruled fullback Sam Tomkins out of the Vodafone Warriors’ first-round NRL encounter with Newcastle at Hunter Stadium today (4.30pm kick-off local time; 6.30pm NZT).
The 25-year-old England international travelled to Newcastle with the side rated a 50-50 chance of playing but head coach Andrew McFadden has confirmed he won’t be starting.
It will be the first match Tomkins has missed since joining the club after appearing in all 24 games last year.
The final line-up to face the Knights will be revealed an hour before kick-off today.
Five players are set to make their first NRL appearances for the club today.
Solomone Kata will become Vodafone Warrior No 193 when he makes his NRL debut in the centres today just months after scoring a hat-trick in the opening 33 minutes of last year’s NYC grand final win against Brisbane. He was awarded the Jack Gibson Medal as the man of the match.
Paired in the second row are newcomers Bodene Thompson and Ryan Hoffman, Thompson making his 86th NRL appearance after stints with Gold Coast and Wests Tigers and Hoffman his 246th after 11 seasons with Melbourne (as well as a one-off Super League season with Wigan in 2011). Thompson becomes Vodafone Warrior No 194 and Hoffman No 195.
On the bench Sam Lisone and Albert Vete, who have also come through the Vodafone Junior Warriors, will make their NRL debuts after impressive offseason efforts and form in the trials.
Lisone was co-captain of the club’s NYC premiers last year while Vete played in the 2013 NYC grand final. Lisone becomes Vodafone Warrior No 196 and Vete No 197.
The Vodafone Warriors go into today’s match on the back of two NRL trials and an inter-squad hit-out against the club’s New South Wales Cup side. A side made up largely of New South Wales Cup contenders and players from Auckland clubs lost to Gold Coast 12-22 while a full-strength side beat Penrith 18-4 and then the NSW Cup squad 42-14.
In this first outing of their 20th anniversary season, the Vodafone Warriors meet an opponent which proved one of their most difficult in the club’s early years. They didn’t have their first win over the Knights until 1999 and had to wait until 2002 before their first win in Newcastle.
However, after winning only two of the first 14 clashes between the two sides, the Vodafone Warriors have had a greater level of success since winning 13 of the last 18 encounters.
The last one at Hunter Stadium ended disappointingly, though, when they lost 22-28 last year, a result that seriously dented their top eight plans. The overall record in 32 games shows the Vodafone Warriors winning 15 times with one draw and 16 losses.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 SOLOMONE KATA | He’s a powerhouse centre in the same mould as his Tongan team-mate Konrad Hurrell. Paired with the vastly experienced Manu Vatuvei outside him and veteran Ryan Hoffman inside forming a potent left edge.
#2 KONRAD HURRELL | Returning from wrist surgery, the explosive Hurrell gives the Vodafone Warriors a serious attacking weapon on the right edge, teaming up with Shaun Johnson and new second rower Bodene Thompson on the inside. Hurrell has 37 tries in 56 NRL games.
#3 SHAUN JOHNSON | Since the end of last season Johnson has helped the Kiwis to Four Nations glory, been named the winner of the Golden Boot and launched the NRL season. He comes into his fifth NRL season nearing 100 NRL appearances.
#4 THOMAS LEULUAI | After frustrations with injury last year, the immensely experienced Leuluai returns as the starting hooker for the 2015 season with veteran Nathan Friend on the bench. Leuluai matches his playmaking skills with aggressive defence.
#5 MANU VATUVEI | The Beast starts his 12th NRL campaign closing in on his 200th game and his 150th try. He has a good strike rate against the Knights and always has a great contest against Newcastle's try-scoring machine Akuila Uate.
500 Games | The Vodafone Warriors play their 491st match today since entering the competition in 1995.
250 NRL Games | Ryan Hoffman plays his 246th NRL match today.
200 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Manu Vatuvei plays his 195th NRL match today.
200 NRL Games | Nathan Friend plays his 198th NRL match today; Jacob Lillyman plays his 187th NRL match today.
150 NRL for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 125th game for the club today.
100 NRL Games (all for Vodafones Warriors) | Shaun Johnson plays his 84th NRL match today.
100 NRL Games | Bodene Thompson plays his 86th NRL match today.
50 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Henry plays his 48th NRL match today.
50 NRL Games | Chad Townsend plays his 39th NRL match today.
150 NRL Tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 135 tries in 194 games.
50 NRL Tries | Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson have both scored 37 tries.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
4.30pm, Saturday, March 07
Referees: Ashley Klein and Chris Butler
2 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 THOMAS LEULUAI
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 THOMAS LEULUAI
10 BEN MATULINO
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN
13 SIMON MANNERING (c)
14 NATHAN FRIEND
15 BEN HENRY
16 SAM LISONE
17 ALBERT VETE
18 SUAIA MATAGI
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.92, Newcastle Knights $1.82
SKY SPORT 1: Live from 4.00pm NZT.