While 2015 is strongly focused on celebrating history in what is the Vodafone Warriors’ 20th anniversary season it is already creating more as the next 20 years begins.
Just days after the club’s 20th birthday on Tuesday – March 10, 2015 – the Vodafone Warriors have made yet another Trans-Tasman flight, destination Canberra where they will face the Raiders at GIO Stadium on Sunday (4.30pm kick-off local time; 6.30pm NZT).
Nothing unusual there except this will be the first time in 21 campaigns that the Vodafone Warriors have been subjected to back-to-back away games to start a season. Not only that, but two road trips which rank among the most challenging for the Vodafone Warriors.
After beginning with a 14-24 loss to the Knights last weekend, they return to Canberra where they last year picked up only their second success at the ground in 12 attempts since their first trip to Australia’s national capital in 1996.
The first win was a 31-24 triumph in 1997 while last August the Vodafone Warriors rampaged to a 54-18 victory, a day when Manu Vatuvei snared a hat-trick.
The build-up to this match has been less disruptive than it was last week when the team lost fullback Sam Tomkins and would-be debutant wing Ken Maumalo late in the piece, both ruled out with hamstring injuries. Then on game day the rearranged backline needed more reshaping after centre Konrad Hurrell was forced off early with a knee injury.
Hurrell hasn’t recovered but is expected to be available for first home game of the year against the Parramatta Eels at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, March 21 (5.00pm kick-off).
Tomkins has returned to make his first appearance of the season while Tuimoala Lolohea, the players’ player of the day against the Knights, has moved from fullback into the centres where he’ll team up on the right edge with Jonathan Wright. Wright becomes Vodafone Warrior No 198 after 91 appearances for Parramatta, Canterbury-Bankstown and Cronulla since 2009.
Solomone Kata reverts to the centres after being forced to move out to the right wing in the reshuffle against the Knights.
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 at Mount Smart Stadium on March 21.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 SAM TOMKINS | After playing all 24 matches last season, Tomkins missed his first game for the club last week. He returns this week to provide both strike power and an added playmaking dimension to the side’s attack.
#2 JONATHAN WRIGHT | With close to 100 NRL appearances, Wright gives the Vodafone Warriors ample experience in their back three for this match. He was unavailable last week completing a suspension.
#3 SIMON MANNERING | The Vodafone Warriors’ four-time player of the year has always contributed selflessly to team needs for both club and country and he did so typically again last week, making 52 tackles with no misses, no errors and nine runs.
#4 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA | The 20-year-old Lolohea moves to the centres after superb outing at fullback against the Knights. An excitement machine with the ball in hand, he was used on the wing in his initial NRL appearances last year.
#5 ALBERT VETE AND SAM LISONE | The former NYC front rowers were both introduced to NRL football against the Knights. Combined they carried the ball 32 times, gained more than 210 metres and made 46 tackles with just one miss.
TOP STATS | v NEWCASTLE
Most runs | Albert Vete 19, Tuimoala Lolohea 18, Chad Townsend 16, Manu Vatuvei 15, Ben Matulino 15, Bodene Thompson 15, Ryan Hoffman 15, Sam Lisone 13
Most metres | Tuimoala Lolohea 213, Manu Vatuvei 175, Chad Townsend 147, Ben Matulino 145, Ryan Hoffman 129, Albert Vete 125, Solomone Kata 122, Bodene Thompson 118
Most tackles | Simon Mannering 52, Bodene Thompson 35, Ben Matulino 30, Thomas Leuluai 26, Sam Lisone 28
Tackle breaks | Tuimoala Lolohea 10, Ryan Hoffman 6, Konrad Hurrell 3, Solomone Kata 3, Thomas Leuluai 3, Manu Vatuvei 2, Bodene Thompson 2, Chad Townsend 2
500 Games | The Vodafone Warriors play their 492nd match since entering the competition in 1995.
250 NRL Games | Ryan Hoffman plays his 247th NRL match.
200 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Manu Vatuvei plays his 196th NRL match.
200 NRL Games | Nathan Friend plays his 199th NRL match; Jacob Lillyman plays his 188th NRL match.
150 NRL Games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 126th game for the club.
100 NRL Games (all for Vodafones Warriors) | Shaun Johnson plays his 85th NRL match.
100 NRL Games | Bodene Thompson plays his 87th NRL match.
50 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Henry plays his 49th NRL match.
50 NRL Games | Chad Townsend plays his 40th NRL match.
150 NRL Tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 135 tries in 195 games.
50 NRL Tries | Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson have both scored 37 tries.
CANBERRA RAIDERS v VODAFONE WARRIORS
GIO Stadium, Canberra
6.30pm, Sunday, March 15
Referees: Adam Devcich and David Munro
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
SKY SPORT 1: Live from 8.00pm NZT.