Ken Maumalo in the gym.

NRL TEAM NEWS | Two players ruled out

Hamstring injuries have ruled fullback Sam Tomkins and wing Ken Maumalo out of the Vodafone Warriors’ first-round NRL encounter with Newcastle at Hunter Stadium today (4.30pm kick-off local time; 6.30pm NZT).

Tomkins travelled to Newcastle with the side rated a 50-50 chance of playing but head coach Andrew McFadden confirmed he wouldn’t be starting after the team’s final pre-match run in Newcastle yesterday.

Maumalo (20) was set to make his NRL debut along with former NYC team-mates Solomone Kata, Sam Lisone and Albert Vete but he picked up a hamstring injury in yesterday’s field session.

The injuries have resulted in Tuimoala Lolohea, originally named on the right wing, moving to fullback and Kata, who was named in the centres, going to the wing. Ben Henry switches from the bench to start in the centres and prop Suaia Matagi replaces him on the interchange.

Five players make their first NRL appearances for the club today.

Kata becomes Vodafone Warrior No 193. 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 season with Wigan in 2011). Thompson becomes Vodafone Warrior No 194 and Hoffman No 195.

On the bench Lisone and Vete 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 has 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 power-packed outside back in the same mould as his Tongan team-mate Konrad Hurrell. He was initially paired with Manu Vatuvei outside him and veteran Ryan Hoffman on the inside but now he has Hurrell as he centre partner.

#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 new second rower Bodene Thompson. 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.

 

MILESTONES WATCH

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

 

VODAFONE WARRIORS

2        TUIMOALA LOLOHEA

4        SOLOMONE KATA

3        KONRAD HURRELL

15       BEN HENRY

5        MANU VATUVEI

6        CHAD TOWNSEND

7        SHAUN JOHNSON

8        JACOB LILLYMAN

9        THOMAS LEULUAI

10       BEN MATULINO

11       BODENE THOMPSON

12       RYAN HOFFMAN

13       SIMON MANNERING (c)

Interchange:

14       NATHAN FRIEND

16       SAM LISONE

17       ALBERT VETE

18       SUAIA MATAGI

BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ

Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.92, Newcastle Knights $1.82

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TV COVERAGE

SKY SPORT 1: Live from 6.00pm NZT.