Nelson is primed to provide a special homecoming for local hero Simon Mannering after confirmation the Vodafone Warriors will bring NRL football to the South Island city for the first time next February.
Event sponsor Mike Pero and the Vodafone Warriors have jointly announced a preseason match-up against St George Illawarra at Trafalgar Park on Saturday, February 20 (5.00pm kick-off), just two weeks out from the start of the 2016 NRL season.
The occasion will have special meaning for both the Nelson Tasman region and Motueka-raised Mannering, who was introduced to rugby league while attending Nelson College in 2003.
Trafalgar Events director Aldo Miccio said he and co-director Barry Galbraith were delighted a Nelson trial had been made possible after plans for a match there 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 and we thank Mike Pero, our naming rights sponsor, for helping to make it possible,” 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 and also a great chance for people to explore the beautiful Nelson Tasman region.”
Mannering isn’t one for fanfare but he’s looking forward to the prospect of playing 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 nationals, making the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and ultimately being signed by the Vodafone Warriors in 2004 before making his NRL debut as an 18-year-old against the Brisbane Broncos in 2005.
He has gone on to make 236 NRL appearances, leaving him behind only Stacey Jones (261) on the club’s all-time list while he has the record for most games as captain for the club with 136; 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 head coach Andrew McFadden welcomed the opportunity to stage the trial in Nelson.
“It’s great for the club, the players, members and fans to have the Vodafone Warriors playing in centres around the country,” 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. It will certainly be special for Simon.
“Coming straight after the NRL Nines at Eden Park, our trials will be absolutely vital for us as we look to prepare for the 2016 season, even more so with this game in Nelson because it will be our last outing before the season proper.
“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’ 2016 squad boasts superstar signings Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, fellow Kiwi internationals 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 signings Jeff Robson, Blake Ayshford and Ligi Sao.
The Dragons’ squad includes former Kiwi captain Benji Marshall and current Kiwi wing Jason Nightingale, Origin players Josh Dugan and Ben Creagh, England internationals Gareth Widdop and Mike Cooper and former Vodafone Warriors Leeson Ah Mau, Sebastine Ikahihifo and Siliva Havili.
To mark the occasion, the Vodafone Warriors will wear an eye-catching, just-released strip for the Mike Pero-sponsored trial. Designed and produced by official apparel sponsor Canterbury of New Zealand, the black-red kit will be work only in the trial before being used by the Vodafone Warriors for opposed training sessions next season. It’s now available to buy at www.warriorsstore.co.nz
MIKE PERO PRESENTS | VODAFONE WARRIORS IN NELSON
Saturday, February 20
2.00pm | Gates open
3.00pm | Nelson Titans v West Coast Chargers
5.00pm | Vodafone Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons
Tickets now on sale | www.ticketek.co.nz/warriorsnelson