The Vodafone Warriors move within three games of the 500th match in the club’s history when they face North Queensland at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville today (5.30pm kick-off local time; 7.30pm NZT).
Next Saturday’s first-ever Anzac Day match at Mount Smart Stadium (1.45pm kick-off) is followed by two games on the road against Cronulla (May 9) and then the 500th match when the Vodafone Warriors take on Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium on May 16.
Today’s encounter doubles as a special 20th anniversary battle featuring the two surviving clubs introduced to the competition in 1995 (the South Queensland Crushers and the Western Reds were the other two).
Both teams will head into the clash coming off victories, the Vodafone Warriors beating Wests Tigers 32-22 in Manu Vatuvei’s 200th game on Saturday night and the Cowboys impressing in their 30-12 defeat of 2014 premiers the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium on Monday night.
It’s a major milestone night for the Cowboys with Johnathan Thurston celebrating his 250th career game and interchange prop Ben Hannant his 200th.
Vatuvei also has the chance to create history. If he scores a try tonight he will own the record outright for most tries in the competition by a New Zealander (he shares it on 140 with Nigel Vagana after his double against the Tigers).
The original Auckland Warriors and the Cowboys debuted in the competition within a day of each other, the Warriors losing to Brisbane 22-25 in Auckland on March 10, 1995, and North Queensland beaten 16-32 by the then-Sydney Bulldogs in Townsville the following day.
It was later in the season before they met for the first time on July 29, the Warriors winning 28-10 against a Cowboys side which had won just two of its first 17 games in the competition.
The two clubs have forged close links since joining the old Winfield Cup with the now defunct South Queensland Crushers and the Western Reds.
Of the 199 players who have appeared for the Vodafone Warriors, 18 either joined the club from North Queensland or played in the NRL for the Cowboys after leaving. Among them is Micheal Luck who played 150 times for the Vodafone Warriors after 76 games for the Cowboys as well as Jacob Lillyman, who makes his 131st appearance for the Vodafone Warriors on Saturday night after 62 games for North Queensland. The other 16 players who have represented both clubs are Leeson Ah Mau, Kevin Campion, Jason Death, Paul Dezolt, Sione Faumuina, Nathan Fien, George Gatis, David Myles, Lee Oudenryn, Willie Poching, Steve Rapira, Grant Rovelli, Tyran Smith, Se’e Solomona, Whetu Taewa and Brent Tate.
While a total of 199 players have represented the Vodafone Warriors so far, the Cowboys have used 254 players; the Vodafone Warriors have won 232 of the 496 games they’ve played, the Cowboys had their 196th win in 495 starts this week; the Vodafone Warriors have been in two grand finals (2002 and 2011) and the Cowboys one (2005) while they have both played in seven finals campaigns.
In 33 matches between the two sides, the Vodafone Warriors have an 18-15 edge in wins although the Cowboys lead 10-5 in contests in Townsville. Their 16-20 loss to the Vodafone Warriors at 1300SMILES Stadium last year was their only home defeat of the season; it’s also the only time the Vodafone Warriors have won in nine matches there since their last win in 2002.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 JACOB LILLYMAN | Another trip to his old club for ‘Bull’ as he edges closer to making his 200th career appearance. This will be his 193rd match and comes at a time when he has found some of his best form again, carting the ball almost 140 metres against the Tigers last week.
#2 RYAN HOFFMAN | The big second rower has quickly settled in with the Vodafone Warriors after moving from Melbourne. Impressing on the left edge, he topped both the runs (20) and metres gained (172) in the win against the Tigers. He had three tries in his first three games.
#3 KONRAD HURRELL | The bulldozing centre is again in the spotlight after returning to his explosive best last week with a series of potent carries featuring a stunning surge to lay on a try for Tuimoala Lolohea. Defence will be a key tonight with Johnathan Thurston in hot touch.
#4 SOLOMONE KATA | Like Hurrell on the right, Kata was a handful on the left playing alongside the 200-game man Manu Vatuvei. He carried the ball more than 150 metres but along with the rest of the left edge he’ll be challenged on defence tonight as Thurston pulls the strings.
#5 BODENE THOMPSON | The ex-Wests Tigers and Gold Coast back rower has been a defensive rock since joining the club. He’ll have plenty of work again tonight trying to keep the in-form Cowboys in check. He scored his first try for the Vodafone Warriors last week.
TOP STATS | SATURDAY, APRIL 11 v WESTS TIGERS WON 32-22
Most runs | Ryan Hoffman 20, Ben Matulino 17, Jacob Lillyman 16, Bodene Thompson 13, Jonathan Wright 12, Konrad Hurrell 12, Solomone Kata 12, Manu Vatuvei 12, Chad Townsend 12, Tuimoala Lolohea 11, Shaun Johnson 10, Simon Mannering 10.
Most metres | Ryan Hoffman 172, Ben Matulino 158, Solomone Kata 155, Konrad Hurrell 151, Tuimoala Lolohea 142, Jacob Lillyman 138, Jonathan Wright 134, Manu Vatuvei 117, Simon Mannering 107, Bodene Thompson 107.
Most tackle breaks | Konrad Hurrell 5, Manu Vatuvei 4.
Most tackles | Simon Mannering 50, Bodene Thompson 33, Ben Matulino 33, Jacob Lillyman 30, Thomas Leuluai 29, Chad Townsend 18.
Missed tackles | Thomas Leuluai, Sam Lisone 0, Albert Vete 0, Nathan Friend 0 Manu Vatuvei 0, Tuimoala Lolohea 0, Jonathan Wright.
RECORD | v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Overall | Played 33, Vodafone Warriors 18, Cowboys 15.
At 1300SMILES Stadium | Played 15, Vodafone Warriors 5, Cowboys 10.
500 Games | The Vodafone Warriors play their 497th match since entering the competition in 1995.
200 NRL Games | Jacob Lillyman plays his 193rd NRL match.
150 NRL Games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 131st game for the club.
100 NRL Games (all for Vodafones Warriors) | Shaun Johnson plays his 90th NRL match.
100 NRL Games | Jonathan Wright plays his 97th NRL match.
100 NRL Games | Bodene Thompson plays his 92nd NRL match.
50 NRL Games | Chad Townsend plays his 45th NRL match.
150 NRL Tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 140 tries in 200 games.
50 NRL Tries | Shaun Johnson 38, Konrad Hurrell 37.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS v VODAFONE WARRIORS
1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
5.30pm, Saturday, April 18
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Grant Atkins
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 JONATHAN WRIGHT
3 KONRAD HURRELL
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 DOMINIQUE PEYROUX
16 SAM LISONE
17 ALBERT VETE
18 RAYMOND FAITALA-MARINER
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Cowboys $1.35, Vodafone Warriors $3.00
SKY SPORT 2: Live from 7.00pm NZT (kick-off 7.30pm), Saturday, April 18