Tuimoala Lolohea moves to fullback and Matt Allwood comes into the centres for the Vodafone Warriors’ 20th anniversary match against the Brisbane Broncos at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (2.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).
With first-choice fullback Sam Tomkins sidelined for four to six weeks with a knee injury, the 20-year-old Lolohea with have his second start in the position in four games this season.
He filled the role when Tomkins was out with a hamstring injury against Newcastle – excelling with 213 metres and 10 tackle breaks – and he also played the last 29 minutes against the Eels at fullback after Tomkins left the field.
Allwood will become Vodafone Warrior No 199 and the seventh player to make his debut for the club this season after Solomone Kata, Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete and Jonathan Wright.
The 22-year-old Allwood signed with the Vodafone Warriors after 11 NRL appearances for the Canberra Raiders last season. So far this year he has played twice for the club’s New South Wales Cup side – at centre and fullback – as well as being the NRL team’s 18th man twice.
“Tui has a big opportunity at fullback with Sam out for a month or so,” said assistant coach Tony Iro.
“He was outstanding there when we played Newcastle and had more experience when Sam went off last week. We all know the ability he has and have real confidence in him being able to handle himself.
“Matt gives us NRL experience and is well versed in what we do. He has trained in the centres throughout the offseason as well as playing in trials.”
The rest of the side remains unchanged with the same starting pack being named for the third straight week.
The match marks the 20th anniversary of the Vodafone Warriors’ debut appearance against the Broncos on March 10, 1995, a game Brisbane won 25-22.
The Broncos have been their most regular opponents, this being the 36th clash with Brisbane winning 20 of them and the Vodafone Warriors 15. At Mount Smart Stadium the Vodafone Warriors have a 10-7 edge in 17 meetings.
The Vodafone Warriors have won the last four encounters at Mount Smart and six of the last seven but this time they face a Brisbane side reunited with foundation coach Wayne Bennett who was at the helm when the two clubs first met in 1995.
After twin individual milestones for Nathan Friend (200th game) and Ben Henry (50th game) last weekend, there are no major marks in the offing on Sunday although wing Manu Vatuvei is edging towards the record for most tries in the NRL by a New Zealand player. His try against the Eels was his 137th leaving him three short of Nigel Vagana’s 140 tries.
It will be Vatuvei’s 198th game as he eyes becoming only the third player to appear in 200 games for the Vodafone Warriors, a mark he is set to achieve against Wests Tigers at home on April 11.
Hoffman plays his 249th match on Sunday as he looks towards bringing up his 250th against his old Melbourne side on April 6.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v BRISBANE BRONCOS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
2.00pm, Sunday, March 29
Referees: Matt Cecchin and Grant Atkins
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 JONATHAN WRIGHT
3 MATT ALLWOOD
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 DOMINIQUE PEYROUX
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN