A year on from starting the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ run to 2014 NYC grand final glory, Stacey Jones begins a new finals campaign with the Vodafone Warriors’ week one New South Wales Cup play-off against the Mounties at Belmore Sports Ground tomorrow (2.00pm kick-off local time; 4.00pm NZT)
This is the second time in seven days that the two sides have met, the Mounties taking out the minor premiership with a 36-10 victory over a heavily-depleted Vodafone Warriors side made up largely of players out of Auckland’s Fox Memorial clubs (including five debutants).
It’s also a repeat of last season’s week one finals match-up when the eighth-ranked Vodafone Warriors shocked the fifth-placed Mounties with a 36-28 victory.
Jones will be without a number of eligible players again tomorrow who will be on NRL duty with the Vodafone Warriors; Matt Allwood, Dominique Peyroux, Mason Lino, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Siliva Havili have all been named in the line-up to take on the Bulldogs while Charlie Gubb is suspended and David Fusitu’a, Glen Fisiiahi and Viliami Kaveinga are on the injured list.
While losing Faitala-Mariner and Havili this week, Jones has regained regular captain John Palavi and back rower-prop Sione Lousi, both in the NRL squad last weekend.
Also coming back into the NSW Cup line-up are Vodafone Junior Warriors Ata Hingano and Marata Niukore after they turned out for the NYC side against Wests Tigers last week. Joining them for his NSW Cup debut is loose forward Jazz Tevaga, who will become the 57th player Jones has used this year. He is on the bench while Niukore is named to start his seventh NSW Cup game in the centres and Hingano his ninth at standoff.
Another back in the side is experienced prop Upu Poching, who was ruled out in the warm-up last week, while Ken Maumalo will be back on the wing after being taken from the field after just a few minutes of last week’s game.
The two teams shared their regular season clashes, the Vodafone Warriors prevailing 36-28 at Mount Smart Stadium on June 27 while Canberra’s feeder side had too much experience for a gallant but understrength Vodafone Warriors combination last week.
If the fourth-ranked Vodafone Warriors win tomorrow they will earn a direct path to week three of the finals while a loss would line them up against the winner of the elimination play-off between fifth-placed Canterbury-Bankstown and eighth-placed North Sydney.
This is the third consecutive season the club has reached the NSW Cup finals.
After being denied grand final glory in the dying moments in 2011, the Vodafone Warriors-aligned Auckland Vulcans failed to make the 2012 play-offs before qualifying sixth in 2013 but being eliminated 34-24 by Wests Tigers in week one.
In last year’s finals the Vodafone Warriors (eighth) advanced to week two after beating the Mounties (fifth) 36-28 but then lost 12-29 to Illawarra (fourth).
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MOUNTIES
Belmore Sports Ground, Sydney
2.00pm, Saturday, September 05
Referee: Damien Briscoe
1 SIMON LUAFALEALO
2 KEN MAUMALO
3 SIONE FE’AO
4 MARATA NIUKORE
5 WILLIE PEACE
6 ATA HINGANO
7 RAYMOND TALIMALIE
8 UPU POCHING
9 LEVI NORTON
10 SIONE LOUSI
11 JOHN PALAVI (c)
12 JAMES BELL
13 DAVID BHANA
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 STEDMAN LEFAU
16 TAYLOR DANIELS
17 ZAC TIPPINS
COACH: STACEY JONES