New halves and back row combinations are the features of the Vodafone Warriors’ reshaped line-up for their 21st-round NRL encounter with the Cronulla Sharks at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday (5.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: DEWALT; game day theme: Sir Peter Leitch Appreciation Day).
With halfback Shaun Johnson (ankle) sidelined for the season, head coach Andrew McFadden has today confirmed the versatile Tuimoala Lolohea in the halves, where he played the last 55 minutes of Saturday’s clash against Manly after Johnson left the field.
Lolohea (21) has already started at fullback, in the centres and on the wing so far this season.
McFadden has been forced to make changes in the back row with Bodene Thompson out with an ankle injury and Ryan Hoffman not yet recovered from his calf complaint picked up in the final State of Origin match earlier this month.
Captain Simon Mannering is moved from the loose forward’s role he’s filled this season to operate on the edge with Ben Matulino switching from prop to start in the second row, a position he filled several times last year. Taking over in the No 13 jersey is Sebastine Ikahihifo, who ran for 159 metres from 16 runs and made 32 tackles for club’s New South Wales Cup side against Manly on Saturday.
There are also three changes in the outsides backs with three of the club’s most powerful ball runners coming back into the line-up. Manu Vatuvei is named on the left wing after being sidelined since the June 27 win over Canberra with a shoulder injury, while Konrad Hurrell is back from suspension to line up in the centres and Ken Maumalo is recalled for his fifth NRL appearance on the right wing.
There are also changes on the bench with props Charlie Gubb and Sam Lisone joining Siliva Havili and Raymond Faitala-Mariner while Sione Lousi and Jonathan Wright have been named as well.
“Simon and Ben will give us loads of experience and aggression in the second row while Seb demanded selection after his efforts with the New South Wales Cup side,” said McFadden.
“Tui was a natural choice in the halves. He has trained there throughout the season when Shaun and Chad have missed training sessions.
“In Manu, Konrad and Ken we have three powerful runners back in the mix. We’ve really missed Manu’s carries out of defence over the last few weeks, Ken has just come off four tries in a match and we all know what Koni can do.
“With Charlie and Sam coming onto the bench we gain more aggression and energy, which we have been missing lately.
“The effort against Manly was really disappointing but it’s only two weeks ago that we had a great feeling in the team when we beat Melbourne. That’s what we have to find again.”
The Vodafone Warriors will have to find that formula against a Cronulla side which has won six of its last seven games to climb to sixth on the table on 24 points while the Vodafone Warriors are now eighth on 22 after losing their last two games.
The last 10 encounters between the two clubs have been split 5-5. The Vodafone Warriors have a 9-6 advantage in 15 matches played at Mount Smart Stadium while the Sharks are 18-16 ahead in 34 meetings overall.
This week the Vodafone Warriors will stage a doubleheader with the NYC contest against the Sharks kicking off at 2.40pm and the NRL match at 5.00pm.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CRONULLA SHARKS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
5.00pm, Saturday, August 01
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 KEN MAUMALO
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 CHAD TOWNSEND
7 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 ALBERT VETE
11 BEN MATULINO
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
14 SILIVA HAVILI
15 RAYMOND FAITALA-MARINER
16 CHARLIE GUBB
17 SAM LISONE
18 SIONE LOUSI
21 JONATHAN WRIGHT
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN