Jonathan Wright will make his club debut and Sam Tomkins returns from injury in two personnel changes for the Vodafone Warriors’ second- round NRL encounter with the Raiders at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Sunday (6.30pm kick-off local time; 8.30pm NZT).
Wright, who turned 28 last Sunday, is named on the right wing and Tomkins is back at fullback after missing the Newcastle clash last Saturday with a hamstring complaint.
The selection results in Lolohea being switched to the centres for the injured Konrad Hurrell and Solomone Kata is named in the centres. He was due to play there against the Knights but was moved to the wing when would-be debutant Ken Maumalo was ruled out after picking up a hamstring injury in the team’s final pre-game run.
Utility Ben Henry reverts to the interchange bench along with veteran hooker Nathan Friend and rookie props Sam Lisone and Albert Vete, both impressive in their debuts last weekend. Dropping out of the squad is prop Suaia Matagi with ex-Canberra outside back Matt Allwood named as 18th man.
Wright, who was completing a three-game suspension last week, is set to become the third of the major recruits to make his club debut as Vodafone Warrior No 198. He was signed in early December after amassing 91 appearances for the Eels, Bulldogs and Sharks since his debut in 2009; his games at first-grade level have been spread between the wing and the centres.
Vodafone Warriors assistant coach Tony Iro said Hurrell was still in a lot of discomfort from the left knee injury he received in the Newcastle contest. After going off the field early in the game he was able to return later to play out the match but Iro said Hurrell’s knee was still swollen.
“With Sam returning, Tui goes to the centres,” said Iro.
“He has trained in the outside backs throughout the preseason. Obviously he’s a talented kid and we know what he’s capable of.
“Jono is very experienced with close to 100 games. He was specifically brought to the club to fill that role of being able to play on the wing or in the centres.”
The Vodafone Warriors will start with the same pack used against the Knights, a combination packed with experience. Captain Simon Mannering will be playing his 214th NRL match, second rower Ryan Hoffman his 247th, prop Jacob Lillyman his 188th and fellow front rower Ben Matulino his 154th. Hooker Thomas Leuluai has played almost 300 games in the NRL and Super League combined while second rower Bodene Thompson plays his 87th match this weekend.
On the bench veteran hooker Nathan Friend takes his tally to 199 games leaving him in line to achieve his 200th milestone in the first home game of the year at Mount Smart Stadium on March 21 against Parramatta (5.00pm kick-off).
The whole-hearted Mannering was again the team’s ever-reliable workhorse last Saturday as he topped the tackle count with a massive 52 tackles and didn’t miss one. Debutant props Albert Vete and Sam Lisone both impressed, Vete making 125 metres from 19 runs and Lisone 91 from 13 plus 28 tackles. Hoffman (129), Thompson (118) and Matulino (145) also topped 100 metres as did Lolohea (213), Manu Vatuvei (175), Chad Townsend (147) and Kata (122).
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CANBERRA RAIDERS
GIO Stadium, Canberra
6.30pm, Sunday, March 15
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 JONATHAN WRIGHT
3 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
4 SOLOMONE KATA
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)
14 NATHAN FRIEND
15 BEN HENRY
16 SAM LISONE
17 ALBERT VETE
18 MATT ALLWOOD
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN