Ngani Laumape and Sebastine Ikahihifo make their first NRL appearances of the season while Vodafone Warriors back rower Ryan Hoffman celebrates his 250th game against his old Melbourne side in next Monday’s fifth-round clash at AAMI Park (5.00pm kick-off local time; 7.00pm NZT).
Laumape comes into the centres for his 31st career match after an impressive return from a knee injury for the club’s New South Wales Cup side against North Sydney last Saturday.
And Ikahihifo has been called in to replace Ben Henry on the bench, Henry cruelly ruled out for the season after his second ACL in less than two years. Ikahihifo, who made his debut in 2012, will also be playing his 31st game for the club.
Hoffman (31) will have special cause to relish his return to Melbourne to play his landmark 250th game against the side he played for 245 times before joining the Vodafone Warriors for their 20th anniversary season.
This time he’ll have the strange experience of lining up against three players who were his constant team-mates for so long and have already joined the 250-game list – Cameron Smith (288), Billy Slater (274) and Cooper Cronk (256).
Hoffman, who has scored three tries in his first four games for the Vodafone Warriors, spent 11 seasons with the Storm while he was with Wigan in 2011.
Both teams will go into the Easter Monday contest on the back of disappointing defeats.
The Vodafone Warriors came back strongly to level up 16-16 before a penalty and a try in the finals seconds gave Brisbane a 24-16 win. Melbourne led North Queensland 17-10 with just a few minutes left last night but the Cowboys took it to extra time with a converted try and field goal; then Jonathan Thurston kicked another field goal to give his side its first win of the season.
The Storm are seventh on four points and the Vodafone Warriors ninth with the same record.
The last time they appeared at AAMI Park last season they beat Melbourne 16-10 to give Andrew McFadden his first win after taking over as coach only two weeks earlier.
While Hoffman provides the milestone focus for this match, veteran wing Manu Vatuvei chalks up his 199th appearance leaving him set for his 200th when the team returns home to take on Wests Tigers at Mount Smart Stadium on April 11 (7.30pm kick-off). Only Stacey Jones (261) and current captain Simon Mannering (216) have so far played 200 games for the Vodafone Warriors.
MELBOURNE STORM v VODAFONE WARRIORS
AAMI Park, Melbourne
5.00pm, Monday, April 06
Referees: Adam Devcich and Gavin Reynolds
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 JONATHAN WRIGHT
3 NGANI LAUMAPE
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 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
16 SAM LISONE
17 ALBERT VETE
18 SIONE LOUSI
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN