Manu Vatuvei and Sam Tomkins are named to make their returns from injury while Siliva Havili and Sebastine Ikahihifo have also been called up for the Vodafone Warriors’ 12th-round #GirlPower clash against the Newcastle Knights at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: TNT).
The club’s first home game day since Anzac Day features another tripleheader starting with the New South Wales Cup encounter with the Knights (11.40am kick-off) and followed by the NYC contest between the two clubs (1.40pm kick-off).
Tomkins is set for just his third outing of the season after being sidelined with a knee injury since the 29-16 third-round win over Parramatta on March 21.
Vatuvei is poised to play his 204th NRL game after missing the 17-13 golden point victory over the Eels with a sternum injury.
With Tomkins back Tuimoala Lolohea, who started the last seven games at fullback, will line up in the centres on the right edge while 207-game veteran Nathan Friend starts at hooker for the luckless Thomas Leuluai (out for the season with an ACL injury). Replacing Friend on the bench is Siliva Havili, who comes in for his first NRL appearance of the year, with Sebastine Ikahihifo called in for his second game after previously being used against Melbourne last month.
“Tui has been fantastic at the back but we also know he can do a good job for us at centre,” said Vodafone Warriors assistant coach Tony Iro.
“Losing Tommy for the season is a massive setback but it gives both Friendy and Siliva an opportunity. While we know Friendy can play 80 minutes for us, Siliva gives us something a bit different.”
Friend’s inclusion means the Vodafone Warriors will field a changed starting forward pack for the first time in 10 games. Named to start again are Queensland front rower Jacob Lillyman and New South Wales second rower Ryan Hoffman, who will both square off against each other in tomorrow night’s opening battle in the 2015 State of Origin series.
Lillyman edges closer to his 200-game career milestone with his 197th appearance on Sunday while second rower Bodene Thompson plays his 96th game and halfback Shaun Johnson his 94th.
Coming off their first bye, the Vodafone Warriors lie seventh on the ladder with 12 points after fives win and five losses in their first 10 games, their best start to a season since 2012 (when they also had a 5-5 record after the first 10 rounds). Newcastle is 12th on 10 points after an 18-31 loss to Brisbane last night.
The overall record between the two clubs is close, the Vodafone Warriors winning 15 of 33 games played since 1995 with one drawn. In games at Mount Smart Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors hold a 9-8 advantage with one draw but they’ve won eight of the last nine at home stretching back to 2006 including a 38-18 victory last year when the club marked captain Simon Mannering’s 200th career appearance and his 100th as captain.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, May 31
Referees: Ben Cummins and David Munro
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 NATHAN FRIEND
10 BEN MATULINO
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN
13 SIMON MANNERING (c)
14 SILIVA HAVILI
15 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
16 SAM LISONE
17 ALBERT VETE
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN