Nathan Friend’s 200th NRL appearance will be the individual highlight but both he and his Vodafone Warriors team-mates are focused only on their total performance as they anticipate their first home game of the club’s 20th anniversary season against Parramatta at Mount Smart Stadium today (5.00pm kick-off).
The 34-year-old Friend was presented with his commemorative 200th game jersey by his wife Kelly and sons Axel and Oliver in front of the rest of the team yesterday morning.
Utility Ben Henry was also recognised as he prepared for his 50th NRL appearance.
Few players have worked harder for the 200-game honour than Friend who was sparingly used in the first phase of his career before becoming a fixture with the Titans and then the Vodafone Warriors.
He’s again on the interchange today, ready to be injected into the contest when head coach Andrew McFadden makes the call to swap him with starting hooker Thomas Leuluai.
The players and coaching staff, like members and fans, have been excited all week about the prospect of playing at home at last after the Vodafone Warriors were forced to play their first two games on the road (the first time the club has ever been subjected to such a start to a season).
That sense of anticipation applies especially to new signings Jonathan Wright, Ryan Hoffman and Bodene Thompson as well as rookies Solomone Kata, Sam Lisone and Albert Vete and assistant coach Andrew Webster; for them today’s home game day experience is a first (Kata, Lisone and Vete know all about Mount Smart but today's match will be their first NRL outing at the venue).
In Parramatta the Vodafone Warriors face an opponent which has also had a win and a loss to start the season, the Eels following a big win over Manly with a 20-point defeat by Canterbury-Bankstown.
This 20th anniversary clash will be the 34th time the Vodafone Warriors have faced the Eels. The first and the most recent both finished in big wins for the Vodafone Warriors – 40-4 in 1995 and 48-0 last year but overall the Eels have a 19-14 winning edge. At Mount Smart the Vodafone Warriors enjoy a 10-5 advantage in 15 encounters.
One of those was in the opening round in 2009 on a sombre day when a moment’s silence was observed for Sonny Fai, who would have had his 27th birthday yesterday. The match was also Steve Price’s 300th in the NRL and the 26-18 was the last time the Vodafone Warriors have had a first-round victory.
The match was also notable for current Parramatta captain Tim Mannah making his first-grade debut; of the side the Vodafone Warriors used that day Manu Vatuvei, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman are in the club’s line-up today while Mannah is the sole survivor for the Eels; today’s match will be Mannah’s first back at Mount Smart Stadium since his debut appearance at the ground in 2009.
For the third week running the Vodafone Warriors are set to start with the same pack. Captain Mannering will be playing his 215th NRL match, second rower Ryan Hoffman his 248th, prop Jacob Lillyman his 189th and fellow front rower Ben Matulino his 155th. Hooker Thomas Leuluai has played almost 300 games in the NRL and Super League combined while second rower Bodene Thompson plays his 88th match this weekend.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 NATHAN FRIEND | He might be one of the smallest players in the Vodafone Warriors’ history but he unquestionably has one of the biggest hearts. At 34 he shows no signs of slowing down, ever-busy around the ruck with and without the ball.
#2 BEN HENRY | Henry racks up one of the first significant steps in any NRL career with his 50th appearance today. The accomplished back rower provides the side with options off the bench either in the middle or on the edges.
#3 SIMON MANNERING | Captain Mannering keeps on keeping on as the Vodafone Warriors’ real glue. Enormous contribution in the win against Canberra with 54 tackles – including a superb try-saver on Blake Austin – plus 12 tough carries.
#4 BODENE THOMPSON | The Tauranga-born second rower has been impressive in his first two outings as a Vodafone Warrior and today he has his first chance to play for the club in front of friends and family set to travel north in numbers from the Bay of Plenty.
#5 RYAN HOFFMAN | Like Thompson and wing Jonathan Wright, Hoffman is looking forward to the special experience of his first home game for his new club. The former Melbourne back rower has been outstanding in his first two outings against the Knights and the Raiders.
LAST MEETING | Vodafone Warriors 48, Parramatta 0 at Mount Smart Stadium, Round 18, 2014
TOP STATS | v CANBERRA
Most runs | Ryan Hoffman 21, Ben Matulino 19, Jonathan Wright 18, Manu Vatuvei 16, Sam Tomkins 15, Sam Lisone 14
Most metres | Manu Vatuvei 190, Ben Matulino 188, Ryan Hoffman 175, Sam Tomkins 158, Jonathan Wright 153, Sam Lisone 130, Simon Mannering 124, Solomone Kata 116
Tackle breaks | Sam Tomkins 4, Manu Vatuvei 3, Jonathan Wright
Most tackles | Simon Mannering 54, Bodene Thompson 40, Ben Matulino 22, Thomas Leuluai 22
Missed tackles | Manu Vatuvei 0, Thomas Leuluai 0, Nathan Friend 0, Ben Henry 0, Sam Lisone 0
500 Games | The Vodafone Warriors play their 493rd match since entering the competition in 1995.
250 NRL Games | Ryan Hoffman plays his 248th NRL match.
200 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Manu Vatuvei plays his 197th NRL match.
200 NRL Games | Nathan Friend plays his 200th NRL match; Jacob Lillyman plays his 189th NRL match.
150 NRL Games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 127th game for the club.
100 NRL Games (all for Vodafones Warriors) | Shaun Johnson plays his 86th NRL match.
100 NRL Games | Bodene Thompson plays his 88th NRL match.
50 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Henry plays his 50th NRL match.
50 NRL Games | Chad Townsend plays his 41st NRL match.
150 NRL Tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 136 tries in 196 games.
50 NRL Tries | Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson have both scored 37 tries.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
5.00pm, Saturday, March 21
Referees: Ashley Klein and Adam Gee
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
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.37, Parramatta Eels $2.90
SKY SPORT 1: Live from 5.00pm NZT.