The Vodafone Warriors are taking NRL football to regional New Zealand after confirming North Island and South Island venues for their 2016 trials.
They’ll head north to Whangarei to face the Gold Coast Titans at Toll Stadium on Saturday, February 13 (5.30pm kick-off) followed by a trip to Nelson when they’ll take on the St George Illawarra Dragons in a Mike Pero-sponsored trial at Trafalgar Park on Saturday, February 20 (5.00pm kick-off).
The Gold Coast match will be the Vodafone Warriors’ first full NRL trial in Whangarei after previous preseason hit-outs against Queensland Cup sides the Burleigh Bears in 2011 and the Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles in 2012.
The trip south creates history with Motueka-raised Nelson College old boy Simon Mannering in line to lead the Vodafone Warriors in the club’s first appearance in one of New Zealand’s oldest cities.
Head coach Andrew McFadden welcomed the opportunity to stage two fully-fledged trials in the provincial cities.
“It’s great for the club, the players, members and fans to have the Vodafone Warriors playing in centres around the country like Whangarei and Nelson,” he said.
“We love visiting communities many of us haven’t been to, especially Nelson which will see the Vodafone Warriors for the first time.
“With the Whangarei trip, fans will be able to witness a real NRL trial for the first time.
“Coming straight after the NRL Nines at Eden Park, these two matches will be absolutely vital for us as we look to prepare for the 2016 season.
“We’ve got a lot of new players coming into the squad this season so these trials will give us a chance to look at them all and to build combinations.”
As well as Mannering, the Vodafone Warriors have high-profile signings Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke in a 2016 NRL squad which also includes Kiwis Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino, Thomas Leuluai, Tuimoala Lolohea, Ben Henry and Bodene Thompson, Origin forwards Jacob Lillyman (Queensland) and Ryan Hoffman (New South Wales) plus other new NRL signings Jeff Robson, Blake Ayshford and Ligi Sao.
Toll Stadium manager John Lynch said fans in the Northland region have a huge appetite for the Vodafone Warriors and rugby league generally.
“They loved it when the club was here in 2011 and 2012 and turned out in force,” he said.
“We also had a superb crowd when the Kiwis played Samoa here in the Four Nations last year. “With this being our first fully-fledged NRL trial, we know Northland fans will turn out in bigger numbers again and we also anticipate a lot of people from Auckland will make a day of it.”
Trafalgar Events director Aldo Miccio said he and co-director Barry Galbraith were delighted the Mike Pero-sponsored Nelson trial had been made possible after plans for a match before the 2015 season had been shelved due to the Dragons’ commitments in the World Club Challenge.
“It’s fantastic to see this game finally coming to Nelson,” said Miccio.
“So many people from not only the Nelson region but also Blenheim and West Coast have been looking forward to this for a long time.
“To have the Vodafone Warriors at Trafalgar Park for the first time and playing another NRL side of the Dragons’ quality is going to be the premium sporting event on the Nelson calendar in 2016.
“Having a homecoming for Simon Mannering adds a special dynamic. It’s an opportunity not to be missed, the first chance for sports fans from the region to celebrate and honour him for his achievements in rugby league for both the Vodafone Warriors and the Kiwis.
“It will be a huge day for Nelson and the top of the South Island.”
Mannering isn’t one for fanfare but he’s looking forward to the possibility of being able to play in his home region in front of family and friends.
“I don’t get home too often these days so it’ll be special heading back there with the Vodafone Warriors for the first time,” he said.
“Having family and friends there will add to it and I’m certainly looking forward to it.
“There’s a long way to go yet but the biggest focus for us when it comes around is going to be our performance and how we use it to help us with our preparation for next season.”
Mannering was playing rugby union at Nelson College when coach Paul Bergman encouraged him to try rugby league in 2003. It led to Mannering playing at the national secondary schools rugby league nationals and ultimately being signed by the Vodafone Warriors in 2004 before making his NRL debut as an 18-year-old against Brisbane in 2005.
He has since gone on to make 236 NRL appearances, leaving him behind only Stacey Jones (261) on the club’s all-time list while he has also played 41 Tests for the Kiwis (only Ruben Wiki, Gary Freeman, Stacey Jones and Stephen Kearney are ahead of him).
VODAFONE WARRIORS | 2016 NRL TRIALS
VODAFONE WARRIORS v GOLD COAST | TOLL STADIUM, WHANGAREI
5.30pm, Saturday, February 13
Tickets on sale from November 23 | www.eventfinda.co.nz
VODAFONE WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA | TRAFALGAR PARK, NELSON
5.00pm, Saturday, February 20
Tickets now on sale | www.ticketek.co.nz/warriorsnelson