Whangarei’s popularity as a rugby league destination has been further enhanced following confirmation the Vodafone Warriors will take on the Gold Coast Titans in an NRL trial at Toll Stadium on Saturday, February 13 (5.30pm kick-off).
While it will be the Vodafone Warriors’ third preseason match in Northland since 2011 it’s their first fully-fledged NRL trial after facing Queensland Cup sides the Burleigh Bears in 2011 and the Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles in 2012.
It will be the city’s fourth major rugby league occasion in just a few years following the Kiwis’ appearance against Toa Samoa last year en route to winning the Four Nations title.
Toll Stadium manager John Lynch said fans in the Northland region have a huge appetite for rugby league.
“They love the Warriors and really turned out in force for the trials we had in 2011 and 2012,” he said.
“We also had a superb crowd and a fantastic day when the Kiwis and Samoa were here for 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.”
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden welcomed the opportunity to stage the trial in Northland.
“It’s great for the club, the players, members and fans to have the Vodafone Warriors playing in centres around the country like Whangarei,” he said.
“We love visiting communities many of us haven’t been to, especially Whangarei where some of our guys played in 2011 and 2012 or with the Kiwis last year.
“This time fans will be able to witness a full-on NRL trial in Northland for the first time.
“Coming straight after the NRL Nines at Eden Park, this 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 our match in Whangarei will give us our first chance to look at a lot of them and to build combinations.”
Gold Coast coach Neil Henry is similarly excited about bringing the Titans to Northland.
“It’s wonderful to take a trial match between two NRL teams to Whangarei, a wonderful part of the world, and give the people up there first-hand access to some top-line players,” he said.
“There should be a lot of interest in the match as we also have a strong Kiwi contingent at the Titans with Kiwi internationals Josh Hoffman, Eddy Pettybourne and Zeb Taia and former Warriors players in Nathan Friend, Matt Robinson, Nathaniel Peteru and Agnatius Paasi.”
To mark the occasion, the Vodafone Warriors will wear an eye-catching, just-released strip in Whangarei. Designed and produced by official apparel sponsor Canterbury of New Zealand, the orange-red toned kit is certainly the brightest in the club’s history. It will be worn only in the Toll Stadium 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
The Vodafone Warriors officially began their pre-Christmas offseason training programme on November 2 with only on-tour Kiwis Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino and Tuimoala Lolohea plus captain Simon Mannering not involved.
Apart from those five players the 2016 squad boasts Kiwis Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai, Ben Henry and Bodene Thompson, Origin forwards Jacob Lillyman (Queensland) and Ryan Hoffman (New South Wales), new NRL signings Jeff Robson, Blake Ayshford and Ligi Sao and the likes of Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Albert Vete and Sam Lisone.
Apart from Hoffman, Pettybourne, Taia, Friend, Robinson, Peteru and Paasi, Gold Coast’s squad includes other new signings Tyrone Roberts and David Shillington plus Greg Bird, Luke Douglas, Ryan James, Kane Elgey, David Mead and James Roberts.
The Vodafone Warriors’ New South Wales Cup and NYC (under-20) squads will meet in a trial in the curtain-raiser.
VODAFONE WARRIORS IN WHANGAREI
Saturday, February 13
3.00pm: Vodafone Warriors (NSW Cup) v Vodafone Junior Warriors (NYC)
5.30pm: Vodafone Warriors v Gold Coast Titans