Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has included six new faces in his line-up for Saturday’s first-round NRL clash against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium (5.30pm kick-off local time; 7.30pm NZT).
Making his NRL debut from the bench will be 19-year-old hooker Nathaniel Roache, who’s still NYC-eligible again this season.
The other five are new acquisitions fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, centre Blake Ayshford, halfback Jeff Robson, hooker Issac Luke and prop James Gavet.
Mount Albert Grammar School-educated Roache, who was in the club’s NYC premiership-winning side in 2014, has made 38 appearances for the Vodafone Junior Warriors over the last two seasons and also played for the New South Wales Cup side last year. He was outstanding at last month’s Downer NRL Auckland Nines, scoring three tries to help the club to the final for the first time.
Tuivasa-Sheck (84 games), Ayshford (124), Robson (157) and Luke (188) add vast NRL experience to the Vodafone Warriors’ 2016 campaign while 26-year-old James Gavet, who has just been signed following a trial period, provides a real feel-good story. He’s back home after 14 NRL appearances across four seasons with Canterbury-Bankstown, Wests Tigers and Brisbane. He was previously in the Vodafone Warriors’ NRL squad in 2010 and 2011 after a season with the NYC side in 2009.
Another heart-warming selection is that of second rower Ben Henry, returning to the NRL after his second knee reconstruction in two years. He played both trials against the Gold Coast Titans the St George Illawarra Dragons. Included on the bench after missing the Nines and the trials is regular 2015 back rower Bodene Thompson.
“We’re especially excited for Nate making his debut,” said McFadden.
“He has done everything asked of him and we couldn’t be happier that he now has his chance.
“James has really surprised us with the way he has come through to demand a place. He certainly deserves it with the way he’s trained and through his efforts in the trials.
“It’s also great to see Ben back. He has worked so hard to fight his way back into the NRL.”
McFadden said there was much discussion about the selection of the outside backs and the front row.
“Konrad (Hurrell) has put in the work to get himself in terrific shape but for this game we have gone with Blake there,” he said.
“There was certainly a lot of talk around the outside backs and also the front rowers.”
Ayshford will line up not only against some familiar faces but also in familiar territory as he takes on the club he played 104 times for from 2009-2014; Thompson and Gavet also have strong Tigers links, both with the club in 2013 and 2014.
Tuivasa-Sheck becomes Vodafone Warrior #203, Ayshford #204, Robson #205, Luke #206, Roache #207 and Gavet #208.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v WESTS TIGERS
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
5.30pm, Saturday, March 05
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK
2 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 SHAUN JOHNSON
7 JEFF ROBSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 BEN MATULINO
11 BEN HENRY
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 NATHANIEL ROACHE
15 SAM LISONE
16 JAMES GAVET
17 BODENE THOMPSON
18 JONATHAN WRIGHT
20 ALBERT VETE
HEAD COACH: ANDREW McFADDEN