Hooker Nathan Friend and back rower Ben Henry will rack up personal milestones in the Vodafone Warriors’ first home game of the season against Parramatta at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night (5.00pm kick-off).
The 34-year-old Friend has again been named on the bench in an unchanged side for his landmark 200th NRL appearance while Henry (23) will play his 50th first-grade match.
The milestones coincide with the Vodafone Warriors launching their 20th anniversary season with back-to-back home games against the Eels and then original opponents the Brisbane Broncos on Sunday, March 29 (2.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).
Friend, now in his 14th NRL season, began the journey to his 200th appearance with one game for Brisbane in 2002 followed by 34 for Melbourne from 2003-2006 and 100 for Gold Coast from 2007-2011. On Saturday he makes his 65th appearance as a Vodafone Warrior and will bring up the mark alongside Ryan Hoffman, one of his old team-mates at the Storm.
Henry made his first-grade debut against Manly in 2012 and last year played his first Test for the Kiwis.
“We’ve already had six players appearing for the club for the first time and now Nathan and Ben reaching these milestones,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“They’re occasions we place a lot of emphasis on. It’s also special to have two such valuable team members being able to bring up their milestones in front of family, friends, members and fans at our home.
“Friendy and Ben have made terrific contributions to the club and I know the rest of the boys are thrilled for them.
“We’re also excited to be at home for our next two games in our 20th anniversary season. We can’t wait to get out there in front of our own supporters after two tough games on the road. This is the place the boys love playing at with a big and vocal crowd there behind them.”
Friend’s and Henry’s achievements coincide with the PlayNRL Round which promotes the game’s junior rugby league community. It’s a time for Friend and Henry to pause to remember where the game started for them; Friend with Wests Juniors in Toowoomba and Henry with the Bay Roskill Vikings in Auckland.
The Friend and Henry milestones launch a series of achievements set to follow in the next few weeks.
Hoffman plays his 248th game this week leaving him on track to bring up his 250th against his former team-mates in Melbourne on April 6 while the club’s try-scoring record holder Manu Vatuvei is on target to make his 200th NRL appearance in the sixth-round home game against Wests Tigers on April 11 (just the third Vodafone Warrior to reach the mark after Stacey Jones and Simon Mannering). In the return match against the Eels at Pirtek Stadium in the 10th round the Vodafone Warriors will play their 500th game in the competition.
They head into the Parramatta clash sitting ninth on the table after their 18-6 win over Canberra while the Eels followed a 42-12 win over Manly with 12-32 loss to the Bulldogs to leave them seventh.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
5.00pm, Saturday, March 21
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