Thomas Leuluai is set to play his first game in almost 11 months while Jonathan Wright replaces the injured Manu Vatuvei for the Vodafone Warriors’ sixth-round NRL clash against the Manly Sea Eagles at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday (7.30pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Woodstock).
Leuluai (30) had his 2015 season ended by an ACL injury in the club’s 10th-round game against the Parramatta Eels on May 16 last year.
He has been included on a five-man bench but is poised to come back for his 68th NRL appearance on Saturday night.
Wright is named on the left wing after Vatuvei was forced off with a hamstring injury 66 minutes into Sunday’s 32-28 golden point win over the Sydney Roosters in Gosford. He made a try-scoring appearance filling in for Vatuvei against Melbourne on March 28, his only previous NRL outing so far this season.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has made one other change to the starting line-up used against the Roosters, moving Sam Lisone to loose forward with Albert Vete going to the bench.
“We have to get through training this week but we’re expecting Thomas to be back after a long time out,” said McFadden.
“With Manu we’re not sure about his injury but Jonathan comes in to fill his spot as he has done for us before.”
After returning home from Gosford yesterday, the Vodafone Warriors have a field session tomorrow building up to a battle against one of their toughest opponents. Manly has a 19-8 advantage in 27 games between the two clubs and boasts a 10-3 record in meetings at Mount Smart Stadium. The Sea Eagles have won nine of the last 10 contests with the Vodafone Warriors’ sole success an 18-16 win in Auckland in 2013.
“They always bring a tough attitude and they’re difficult to get over,” said McFadden.
“We’ve had to come down from the excitement of what happened in Gosford.”
The Vodafone Warriors’ back-to-back wins over Newcastle and the Roosters have netted 72 points including a total of 13 tries, half Shaun Johnson collecting three to lift his career tally to 49 while his overall points total now sits at 586.
Centre Solomone Kata bagged his second double of the season on Sunday giving him six tries so far – second behind Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco – and 18 in total in 29 consecutive games since his debut in round one last year.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Tuimoala Lolohea, the architects of the match-winning try against the Roosters, come into the Manly match with impressive form.
Tuivasa-Sheck finished with a game-high 171 metres from 18 runs. His try aside, he came up with try assists for Vatuvei and for Kata’s second try, three line break assists, three tackle breaks and 14 supports.
As well as inspiring Tuivasa-Sheck’s moment of glory, Lolohea made 160 metres from 12 runs, produced try assists for Johnson’s second and for Tuivasa-Sheck’s touchdown plus two line breaks.
Jacob Lillyman marked his 150th appearance for the club by making 159 metres from 20 runs plus a brilliant pass to create Johnson’s first try.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
7.30pm, Saturday, April 9
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK
2 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 JONATHAN WRIGHT
6 SHAUN JOHNSON
7 JEFF ROBSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 BEN MATULINO
11 SIMON MANNERING
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SAM LISONE
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 ALBERT VETE
16 CHARLIE GUBB
17 KONRAD HURRELL
18 THOMAS LEULUAI
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN