He may end up having limited time on the field but Thomas Leuluai’s comeback after almost 11 months on the sideline will command major interest when the Vodafone Warriors host the Manly Sea Eagles in Saturday night’s sixth-round encounter at Mount Smart Stadium (7.35pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Woodstock).
The 30-year-old utility hasn’t played since a season-ending ACL injury in the 10th-round match against Parramatta on May 16 last year.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has indicated a cameo role is likely this week for the veteran of close to 300 top-level games in the NRL and England plus 34 Tests for the Kiwis. He hasn’t revealed what that role might be but clearly Leuluai has the ability to slot into the halves or dummy half.
The Vodafone Warriors have beaten Manly only three times in 13 clashes at Mount Smart Stadium. Leuluai is one of just two players in this week’s squad who have been involved in two of those wins; he was there for the 20-12 win in 2003 and the 18-16 success in 2013 while Simon Mannering was in the side for the 36-14 victory in 2007 and again in 2013.
This 28th clash between the two teams will feature one former Manly player now with the Vodafone Warriors and an ex-Vodafone Warrior now with the Sea Eagles. Halfback Jeff Robson, a 165-game veteran, started his first-grade career with Manly in 2004; of his six appearances for the Sea Eagles none were against the Vodafone Warriors.
Utility Lewis Brown played 84 times for the Vodafone Warriors from 2009-2012 including five matches against Manly (all losses). After 66 games for Penrith – two wins and a loss against Manly – he plays for the Sea Eagles against the Vodafone Warriors for the first time.
Manly back rower Feleti Mateo was set to be the third player lining up against his old Mount Smart club but is staying in Sydney to support his wife Michelle, who is unwell following the birth of the couple’s second child last week.
There’ll be a special edge to the game for not just Christchurch-born Brown but also fellow Kiwi Test players Martin Taupau and Steve Matai who make returns to their home town to play in front of family.
The Vodafone Warriors and Manly go into the contest with identical records of two wins and three losses, the home side 10th with a points differential of minus four points and the visitors 13th with a differential of minus 28 points.
The Vodafone Warriors have won their last two games 40-18 against Newcastle and 32-28 over the Sydney Roosters (scoring a total of 13 tries) while Manly followed a 22-20 win over the Roosters with a 12-16 loss to South Sydney. The Sea Eagles have a nine-day break between games after playing the Rabbitohs last Thursday while the Vodafone Warriors have only a six-day turnaround.
Closing in on two scoring milestones is Vodafone Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson. His double against the Roosters has left him one short of becoming the eighth player to score 50 tries for the club while he is now just 14 short of reaching 600 points overall. Only Stacey Jones (674) and Manu Vatuvei (592 – all from tries) are ahead of him.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 BEN MATULINO | The 27-year-old front rower is following on from his player of the year standards in 2015 by stringing together a series of consistently strong performances so far this season. He has already been named player of day twice this year.
#2 SOLOMONE KATA | This will be the potent Kata’s 30th straight appearance since his debut last year. The club’s top try scorer last season, he already has six tries in 2016 (second in the NRL) including two doubles. He’s up against the consummate Jamie Lyon.
#3 BLAKE AYSHFORD | The steady former Wests Tigers and Cronulla centre’s highly-regarded defensive skills will be heavily scrutinised by the abrasive Steve Matai, consistently one of the hardest running centres in the game.
#4 THOMAS LEULUAI | Leuluai’s return for his first game since mid-May last year is a huge boost, giving the Vodafone Warriors a massive injection of experience as well as his outstanding utility value in the halves or at dummy half.
#5 SAM LISONE | After being injected from the bench, the hard-charging Lisone comes into the starting line-up for Albert Vete at loose forward. He’ll give the Vodafone Warriors plenty of aggression and intensity in the middle from the get-go.
TOP STATS | v SYDNEY ROOSTERS | WON 32-28
Penalties | Vodafone Warriors 7, Roosters 9.
Completions | Vodafone Warriors 26/39 (67%), Roosters 26/34 (77%).
Total runs | Vodafone Warriors 175, Roosters 156.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors 1501, Roosters 1256.
Dummy half runs (metres) | Vodafone Warriors 9 (58), Roosters 4 (37).
Line breaks | Vodafone Warriors 7, Roosters 3.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors 29, Roosters 34.
Kicks (kicking metres) | Vodafone Warriors 13 (329), Roosters 14 (313).
Tackles Made | Vodafone Warriors 278, Roosters 318.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors 34, Roosters 29.
Offloads | Vodafone Warriors 12, Roosters 10.
Errors | Vodafone Warriors 10, Roosters 12.
Runs | Vodafone Warriors: Jacob Lillyman 20, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 18, Ben Matulino 15, Issac Luke 14, Simon Mannering 13, Tuimoala Lolohea 12, Ryan Hoffman 10, Manu Vatuvei 10, Shaun Johnson 10. Roosters: Dylan Napa 15, Aidan Guerra 13, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 13, Kane Evans 11, Blake Fergusson 11, Latrell Mitchell 10, Sam Moa 10.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 171, Tuimoala Lolohea 160, Jacob Lillyman 159, Issac Luke 127, Ben Matulino 124, Simon Mannering 94, Ryan Hoffman 84, Manu Vatuvei 81. Roosters: Mitchell Aubusson 114, Dylan Napa 112, Aidan Guerra 111, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 108, Latrell Mitchell 105.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors: Solomone Kata 7, Issac Luke 6, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 3, Ben Matulino 3. Roosters: Latrell Mitchell 6, Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 5, Blake Ferguson 4, Mitchell Aubusson 4.
Off loads | Vodafone Warriors: Manu Vatuvei 3, Shaun Johnson 2, Ben Matulino 2, Albert Vete 2. Roosters: Daniel Tupou 3, Latrell Mitchell 2, Shaun Kenny-Dowall 2.
Tackles made | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 39, Ben Matulino 34, Issac Luke 30, Jacob Lillyman 30, Ryan Hoffman 21, Charlie Gubb 21H. Roosters: Jake Friend 46, Aidan Guerra 39, Dylan Napa 34, Mitchell Aubusson 30, Isaac Liu 25, Kane Evans 21, Sam Moa 21, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 20.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors: Ryan Hoffman 0, Charlie Gubb 0, Jazz Tevaga 0, Sam Lisone 0. Roosters: Mitchell Aubusson 0, Daniel Tupou 0, Jayden Nikorima 0, Mitchell Frei 0.
Supports | Vodafone Warriors: Jeff Robson 21, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 14, Charlie Gubb 11, Ben Matulino 10, Blake Ayshford 7, Solomone Kata 7. Roosters: Mitchell Aubusson 15, Aidan Guerra 10, Latrell Mitchell 8, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 8.
Decoys | Vodafone Warriors: Ben Matulino 11, Ryan Hoffman 7, Charlie Gubb 7, Simon Mannering 6, Albert Vete 5. Roosters: Isaac Liu 3, Eloni Vunakece 3.
RECORD | v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Overall | Played 27, Vodafone Warriors 8, Manly 19.
Home | Played 13, Vodafone Warriors 3, Manly 10.
Vodafone Warriors debuts | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (#203), Blake Ayshford (#204), Jeff Robson (#205), Issac Luke (#206), Nathaniel Roache (#207) and James Gavet (#208) made their debuts for the Vodafone Warriors against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium on March 5 (Round 1).
Jazz Tevaga (#209) made his club debut for the Vodafone Warriors against Melbourne at Mount Smart Stadium on March 20 (Round 3).
NRL debut | Nathaniel Roache made his NRL debut for the Vodafone Warriors against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium on March 5 (Round 1).
Jazz Tevaga (#209) made his NRL debut for the Vodafone Warriors against Melbourne at Mount Smart Stadium on March 20 (Round 3).
Most NRL appearances for Vodafone Warriors | Simon Mannering plays his 242nd NRL game (Stacey Jones’ record is 261).
250 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Simon Mannering plays his 242nd NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors.
200 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Matulino plays his 179th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors.
200 NRL games (overall) | Issac Luke plays his 193rd NRL game after appearing in 188 matches for South Sydney.
150 NRL games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 151st NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors, the 213th of his career including 62 for North Queensland.
150 NRL games (overall) | Blake Ayshford plays his 130th NRL game after appearing in 104 for Wests Tigers and 20 for Cronulla.
100 NRL games (overall) | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck plays his 90th NRL game after appearing in 84 for Sydney Roosters.
50 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Sione Lousi has played 49 games for the Vodafone Warriors; Tuimoala Lolohea plays his 32nd game for the Vodafone Warriors; Solomone Kata plays his 30th consecutive game for the Vodafone Warriors since his debut in 2015.
150 NRL tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 148 tries in 214 NRL appearances. Only 10 players in history have scored 150 tries in the competition. Vatuvei is 11th-equal on the all-time list, just behind the great Bob Fulton (147). The only current players ahead of him are Billy Slater (172 in 278 games) and Brett Stewart (163 in 225 games).
10 tries or more in a season | Manu Vatuvei has the all-time NRL record having scored 10 tries or more in 10 consecutive seasons from 2006-2015.
600 NRL points | Manu Vatuvei has scored 592 points; Shaun Johnson has scored 586 points.
500 NRL points | Issac Luke has scored 418 points.
50 NRL tries | Shaun Johnson has 49 tries; Konrad Hurrell has 41 tries; Issac Luke has 38 tries; Blake Ayshford has 35 tries; Jonathan Wright has 33 tries; Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has 29 tries.
50 NRL games as NRL coach (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Andrew McFadden coaches the Vodafone Warriors for the 49th time.
250 games at Mount Smart Stadium | The Vodafone Warriors play their 246th game at Mount Smart Stadium (243 regular season games plus three home finals).
2000 tries in the NRL | 1935 (1995-2016)
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
7.30pm, Saturday, April 9
Referees: Gavin Reynolds and Chris Sutton
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (Otahuhu Leopards)
2 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA (Marist Saints)
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD (Paddington Tigers)
4 SOLOMONE KATA (Howick Hornets)
5 JONATHAN WRIGHT (Northern Lake Warriors)
6 SHAUN JOHNSON (Hibiscus Coast Raiders)
7 JEFF ROBSON (Leeton Greenies)
8 JACOB LILLYMAN (Richmond Tigers)
9 ISSAC LUKE (Hawera Hawks)
10 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
11 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels)
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (Campbelltown Collegians) (c)
13 SAM LISONE (Otara Scorpions)
14 JAZZ TEVAGA (Papakura Sea Eagles)
15 ALBERT VETE (Mangere East Hawks)
16 CHARLIE GUBB (University Hunters)
17 KONRAD HURRELL (Mount Albert Lions)
18 THOMAS LEULUAI (Papatoetoe Panthers)
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN
MANLY SEA EAGLES
1 BRETT STEWART
2 JORGE TAUFUA
3 JAMIE LYON (c)
4 STEVE MATAI
5 TOM TRBOJEVIC
6 DYLAN WALKER
7 APISAI KOROISAU
8 JOSH STARLING
9 MATT PARCELL
10 NATE MYLES
11 TOM SYMONDS
12 MARTIN TAUPAU
13 JAKE TRBOJEVIC
14 LEWIS BROWN
15 BRENTON LAWRENCE
16 DARCY LUSSICK
17 SIOSAIA VAVE
18 BLAKE LEARY
21 LUKE BURGESS
COACH | TRENT BARRETT
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.35, Manly Sea Eagles $3.00
SKY SPORT 2: Live from 7.00pm (kick-off 7.35pm), Saturday, April 3