Finals hopes loom large as the Vodafone Warriors shape up for their third home match in as many seasons in Wellington today.
The 22nd-round clash against St George Illawarra at Westpac Stadium kicks off at 5.00pm with the Vodafone Warriors now sitting 10th and the Dragons eighth following last night’s results.
A Vodafone Warriors victory, their first since beating Melbourne on July 12, would lift them to eighth, level with Melbourne and Canterbury-Bankstown on 24 points.
They have a 1-1 record in home games in the Capital, last year’s 42-18 victory over Wests Tigers being their first in seven attempts at the venue (they had previously played five away games in Wellington).
While the team goal is the focus, today’s contest has special personal interest for captain Simon Mannering and especially for Wellington products Ben Matulino and Charlie Gubb.
Matulino will be featuring in an NRL match in his hometown for the third consecutive year and won’t want for a big support crew yet again. He has bought 80-plus tickets for family and friends for the game. There’s added interest for him with his junior club the Te Aroha Eels playing in the first curtain-raiser at 12.30pm when they face the Wainuiomata Lions in the Wellington club grand final.
It’s a red letter day for the ever-enthusiastic Gubb, a Wellington College old boy and University Hunters junior.
The 25-year-old was in Wellington for the last two visits, playing for the Vulcans (2013) and the Vodafone Warriors (2014) in the New South Wales Cup. Today he has his first NRL appearance at home, coming off the bench for what will be his 12th career outing. No one will be prouder of the moment than his father Paul.
Mannering traces the early stages of his rugby league development back to Wellington when he was coached by Paul Bergman, a time when he played for the Wellington Orcas and was also aligned with the University Hunters and the Te Aroha Eels. He’ll have his own support crew at the stadium today, among them family and friends who are making the trip across the Cook Strait from his hometown Motueka as well as Nelson.
Two players on the Vodafone Warriors’ injured players – Thomas Leuluai and Ryan Hoffman – also have links with Wellington.
Leuluai, recovering from knee surgery, has spent the week in the Capital making community appearances around the region with fellow injured players Ben Henry and Toafofoa Sipley plus former players Jerome Ropati and Ruben Wiki.
Leuluai lived in Wellington with his family in the 1990s when his father, legendary Kiwi international James, was coaching in the Capital. Leuluai senior initially played for Wellington after finishing his professional career and then turned his hand to coaching; at the time a young Thomas attended Gracefield School in Lower Hutt and also played for Petone.
Hoffman, sidelined with a calf injury, was in Wellington for his intermediate school years in the mid-1990s when his father and former Canberra hooker Jay was transferred to the Capital through his work. Hoffman attended Hutt Intermediate School and back then played rugby union for Hutt Valley Old Boys Marist as well as playing at junior representative level. Hoffman had been looking forward to the opportunity to represent the Vodafone Warriors in Wellington for the first time.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 CHARLIE GUBB | While he has made just 11 NRL appearances in three seasons – five so far this year – Gubb has become a real fan favourite through his wholehearted efforts from the bench. Today is extra special for him playing an NRL game at home for the first time.
#2 BEN MATULINO | As a proud Wellingtonian, Matulino revels in every opportunity he has to play in front of family and friends whenever the Vodafone Warriors or the Kiwis play in the Capital. This time he starts in the second row with fellow ‘Wellingtonian’ Simon Mannering.
#3 JONATHAN WRIGHT | The reliable Wright has become the club’s fix-it man. Today he has been brought back to improve the defensive organisation on the edge. He has alternated between the left and right wing and the centres during the season.
#4 SAM TOMKINS | With the new halves combination of Chad Townsend and Tuimoala Lolohea starting for just the second time, Tomkins will again be a key contributor as a playmaking option on either side of the ruck.
#5 JACOB LILLYMAN | The veteran front rower led the way up front against the Sharks with Ben Matulino starting in the second row. He finished with 136 metres from 12 runs and backed it up with 25 tackles. More of the same will be needed from him today.
TOP STATS | SATURDAY, AUGUST 01 v SHARKS | LOST 14-18
Penalties | Vodafone Warriors 6, Sharks 3.
Completions | Vodafone Warriors 32/41 (78%), Sharks 24/34 (71%).
Total runs | Vodafone Warriors 177, Sharks 154.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors 1651, Sharks 1405.
Dummy half runs (metres) | Vodafone Warriors 12 (93), Sharks 14 (127).
Line breaks | Vodafone Warriors 1, Sharks 4.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors 17, Sharks 27.
Kicks (kicking metres) | Vodafone Warriors 26 (602), Sharks 19 (498).
Tackles | Vodafone Warriors 308, Sharks 362.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors 27, Sharks 17.
Offloads | Vodafone Warriors 10, Sharks 10.
Errors | Vodafone Warriors 7, Sharks 10.
Runs | Ben Matulino 17, Manu Vatuvei 14, Jacob Lillyman 12, Tuimoala Lolohea 12, Simon Mannering 12, Raymond Faitala-Mariner 12, Sebastine Ikahihifo 12, Charlie Gubb 12, Konrad Hurrell 11, Ken Maumalo 11, Sam Tomkins 11, Solomone Kata 10, Simon Lisone 10.
Metres gained | Manu Vatuvei 195, Ben Matulino 144, Konrad Hurrell 137, Jacob Lillyman 136, Raymond Faitala-Mariner 112, Charlie Gubb 108, Tuimoala Lolohea 103, Simon Mannering 102.
Tackle breaks | Raymond Faitala-Mariner 3, Nathan Friend 3, Manu Vatuvei 2, Simon Mannering 2, Tuimoala Lolohea 2.
Off loads | Simon Mannering 3, Tuimoala Lolohea 2.
Tackles | Simon Mannering 40, Nathan Friend 35, Ben Matulino 28, Jacob Lillyman 25, Chad Townsend 22, Sebastine Ikahihifo 21, Albert Vete 20.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 0, Albert Vete 0, Sam Lisone 0.
RECORD | v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
Overall | Played 22, Won 4, Lost 22.
Home | Played 10, Won 3, Lost 7.
MILESTONES WATCH 2015
150 NRL Games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 143rd NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors.
150 NRL Tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 146 tries in 209 games.
50 NRL Tries | Konrad Hurrell 40.
MILESTONES ACHIEVED IN 2015
20th Anniversary | March 10, 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the Vodafone Warriors making their debut in the competition against Brisbane on March 10, 1995.
50 NRL Games for Vodafone Warriors | Ben Henry made his 50th NRL appearance for the club on March 15 when he lined up against Canberra.
200 NRL Games | Nathan Friend made his 200th NRL appearance on March 21 when he lined up against Parramatta; it was his 65th game for the Vodafone Warriors after previously playing one game for Brisbane, 34 for Melbourne and 100 for Gold Coast.
Jacob Lillyman made his 200th NRL appearance on June 27 when he lined up against Canberra; it was his 138th game for the Vodafone Warriors after previously playing 62 games for North Queensland.
250 NRL Games | Ryan Hoffman made his 250th NRL appearance on April 6 when he lined up against his former club Melbourne; he played 245 games for Melbourne.
200 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Manu Vatuvei made his 200th NRL appearance for the club against Wests Tigers on April 11; he is the third player to appear in 200 games for the Vodafone Warriors (the others being Stacey Jones and Simon Mannering).
10 NRL Seasons for Vodafone Warriors | When Sam Rapira made his 170th career appearance against the Titans on Anzac Day he became the seventh player to represent the Vodafone Warriors in 10 NRL seasons after Stacey Jones, Awen Guttenbeil, Lance Hohaia, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei and Simon Mannering).
200th Vodafone Warrior | Raymond Faitala-Mariner became the club’s 200th first-grade player when he made his debut against Gold Coast on Anzac Day.
500 Games in the NRL | The Vodafone Warriors’ match against Parramatta on May 16 was the club’s 500th in the competition since debuting in 1995.
100 NRL Games | Jonathan Wright made his 100th NRL appearance when he lined up against one of his former clubs Parramatta on May 16; it was his ninth game for the Vodafone Warriors after previously playing 12 games for Parramatta, 38 games for Canterbury-Bankstown and 41 games for Cronulla.
Bodene Thompson made his 100th NRL appearance when he lined up against Canberra on June 21 after previously playing 49 games for Gold Coast and 36 for Wests Tigers.
50 NRL Games | Chad Townsend made his 50th NRL appearance when he lined up against South Sydney on June 6; it was his 31st match for the Vodafone Warriors after previously playing 19 games for Cronulla.
10 Tries in 10 Consecutive Seasons | When Manu Vatuvei scored against the Sydney Roosters on June 6, he completed the unprecedented feat of scoring 10 tries or more in 10 consecutive seasons (2006-2015).
500 Points in the NRL | Shaun Johnson passed 500 career points in the NRL on his way to scoring 20 points against Gold Coast on June 20; he is the fourth player to reach the mark for the Vodafone Warriors after Ivan Cleary, Stacey Jones and Manu Vatuvei).
100 NRL Games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Shaun Johnson made his 100th NRL appearance when he lined up against the Sydney Roosters on July 19.
250 Home Games in NRL | The Vodafone Warriors played their 250th home game when they faced Cronulla on August 1. Their first 250 home games were split between Mount Smart Stadium (242), Eden Park (6) and Westpac Stadium (2). They won 143 games for a winning strike rate of just over 57.00 per cent.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
5.00pm, Saturday, August 08
Referees: Gavin Badger and Alan Shortall
1 SAM TOMKINS
2 KEN MAUMALO
3 JONATHAN WRIGHT
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 SAM LISONE
16 CHARLIE GUBB
17 RAYMOND FAITALA-MARINER
18 DOMINIQUE PEYROUX
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
1 JOSH DUGAN
2 DYLAN FARRELL
3 EUAN AITKEN
4 PETER MATA’UTIA
5 YAW KITI GLYMIN
6 GARETH WIDDOP
7 BENJI MARSHALL
8 LEESON AH MAU
9 MITCH REIN
10 BEN CREAGH (c)
11 TYSON FRIZELL
12 JOEL THOMPSON
13 MIKE COOPER
14 CRAIG GARVEY
15 TRENT MERRIN
16 WILL MATTHEWS
17 JACK DE BELIN
18 JUSTIN HUNT
19 JAKE MARKETO
24 MARK IOANE
COACH: SHANE FLANAGAN
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $2.00, St George Illawarra Dragons $1.75
SKY SPORT 2: Live from 4.30pm (kick-off 5.00pm), Saturday, August 08