Dean Bell leads the Auckland Warriors run out onto Ericsson Stadium for the opening game of the 1995 Winfield Cup season against the Brisbane Broncos on March 10, 1995. Image | www.photosport.co.nz

NRL PREVIEW | Honouring Class of '95

The past and the present will be in full focus when the Vodafone Warriors take on Brisbane in their 20th anniversary match at Mount Smart Stadium today (2.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).

Up to 13 players who represented the club in its debut season will be the guests of honour including as many as nine who lined up against the Broncos in the first match on March 10, 1995.

Among them will be standoff Gene Ngamu, who has come home from Sydney, wing Whetu Taewa, up from Cromwell and starting prop Gavin Hill from Taranaki while Logan Edwards and Mike Dorreen – who made their debuts later in the 1995 campaign – are also in town.

The flavour of 1995 will come through in numerous ways in the pre-game show ahead of today’s 36th contest between the two sides:

  • Several of the 1995 originals will be interviewed on the field
  • The 1995 team line-up with be announced and shown on the big screen
  • A video highlights package of the debut night against the Broncos will be shown
  • The current line-up will be announced
  • A kapa haka group will mass near the original team entry point – the tunnel in the north eastern corner – to welcome the Vodafone Warriors
  • The 1995 players will join a guard of honour, flanking the tunnel entry point
  • As the Vodafone Warriors emerge (flanked by flames and the traditional drummers) a big screen positioned above the tunnel will simultaneously screen footage of the original team’s unforgettable entrance with Warrior #1 Dean Bell leading the way

Also featuring today will be two mascots – the current Tiki decked out in the club’s current colours and another Tiki wearing the original 1995 strip.

While the past is a focal point of this second home game of the season, the present is critical as head coach Andrew McFadden and his players seek to continue a solid start to the club’s 20th anniversary season.

This 20th anniversary clash evokes memories of clashes past including the opening night and the first-ever win over Brisbane in 2001. Back then Wayne Bennett was the maestro and now he is back in charge as he has been on so many other trips to Auckland with the Broncos (and the Dragons and Knights).

They come to Auckland with the same form line as the Vodafone Warriors having won their last two games against Cronulla and North Queensland while the Vodafone Warriors have accounted for Canberra and Parramatta. Their only loss has been to the Knights who have gone unbeaten through the first four rounds.

Recent history shows the Vodafone Warriors prospering at home against the Broncos having won four straight against them in Auckland; in fact they’ve won six of the last seven and have a 10-7 edge overall at Mount Smart Stadium. Brisbane last won in Auckland in 2009.

The Vodafone Warriors have been forced to contend with significant injury disruptions so far this season. They’ve lost first-choice fullback Sam Tomkins for up to six weeks and are still without key strike weapon Konrad Hurrell as well as three other outside backs David Fusitu'a, Glen Fisiiahi and Ken Maumalo.

For the third week running the Vodafone Warriors are set to start with the same pack. Captain Mannering will be playing his 216th NRL match, second rower Ryan Hoffman his 249th, prop Jacob Lillyman his 190th and fellow front rower Ben Matulino his 156th. Hooker Thomas Leuluai has played almost 300 games in the NRL and Super League combined while second rower Bodene Thompson plays his 89th match today.

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FIVE KEY FEATURES

#1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA | Sam Tomkins’ four-six week injury-enforced absence gives Lolohea the chance to settle in at fullback. He excelled in the position against Newcastle when Tomkins was out with a hamstring injury and had 29 minutes at fullback against the Eels.

#2 MATT ALLWOOD | Allwood is the last of the club’s four new signings to play his first NRL match for the Vodafone Warriors. He comes into the centres on the right edge as Vodafone Warrior No 199 after appearing for club’s New South Wales Cup side.

#3 BEN MATULINO AND JACOB LILLYMAN | The vastly-experienced front rowers rolled forward well against the Eels and also plugged the middle on defence. Totalling close to 350 games between them they’re as seasoned as any front row combination in the game.

#4 CHAD TOWNSEND | Townsend lit up against the Eels with the attack largely aimed at the left. He responded with three try assists and key involvement in a fourth including two line breaks as well. He’s the ideal foil to Shaun Johnson on the right.

#5 THOMAS LEULUAI | The versatile Leuluai is building up his time on the field, playing close to 60 minutes in the wins against the Raiders and the Eels. He produced one of the plays of the game last week, his break from dummy half putting Tuimoala Lolohea away.

 

TOP STATS | v BRISBANE

Most runs | Manu Vatuvei 19, Ryan Hoffman 19, Ben Matulino 19, Simon Mannering 17, Tuimoala Lolohea 15, Jonathan Wright 12, Solomone Kata 12, Jacob Lillyman 12, Sam Lisone 12

Most metres | Manu Vatuvei 223, Ryan Hoffman 151, Ben Matulino 150, Tuimoala Lolohea 141, Simon Mannering 135, Solomone Kata 101, Sam Lisone 100

Tackle breaks | Manu Vatuvei 6, Ryan Hoffman 4, Tuimoala Lolohea 3, Solomone Kata 3, Simon Mannering 2

Most tackles | Simon Mannering 45, Bodene Thompson 39, Ben Matulino 23, Jacob Lillyman 22, Ryan Hoffman 21, Ben Henry 19, Jonathan Wright 18, Thomas Leuluai 18

Missed tackles | Manu Vatuvei 0, Jacob Lillyman 0, Thomas Leuluai 0, Ben Matulino 0, Nathan Friend 0, Ben Henry 0, Sam Lisone 0, Albert Vete 0

  

MILESTONES WATCH

500 Games | The Vodafone Warriors play their 494rd match since entering the competition in 1995.

250 NRL Games | Ryan Hoffman plays his 249th NRL match.

200 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Manu Vatuvei plays his 198th NRL match.

200 NRL Games | Jacob Lillyman plays his 190th NRL match.

150 NRL Games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 128th game for the club.

100 NRL Games (all for Vodafones Warriors) | Shaun Johnson plays his 87th NRL match.

100 NRL Games | Bodene Thompson plays his 89th NRL match.

50 NRL Games | Chad Townsend plays his 42nd NRL match.

150 NRL Tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 137 tries in 197 games.

50 NRL Tries | Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson have both scored 37 tries.

 

VODAFONE WARRIORS v BRISBANE BRONCOS

Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

2.00pm, Sunday, March 29

Referees: Matt Cecchin and Grant Atkins

 

VODAFONE WARRIORS

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)

Interchange:

14       NATHAN FRIEND

15       BEN HENRY

16       SAM LISONE

17       ALBERT VETE

18       DOMINIQUE PEYROUX

HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN

 

BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ

Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.62, Brisbane Broncos $2.20

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TV COVERAGE

SKY SPORT 2: Live from 2.00pm NZT.