Some of rugby league’s heaviest artillery will on show when Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs collide with their Vodafone Warriors counterparts in the middle of the park in Saturday night’s seventh-round NRL contest at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium (7.35pm kick-off).
After starting out with the seasoned James Graham, Aiden Tolman and Greg Eastwood, the Bulldogs go to their bench of giants in David Klemmer, Sam Kasiano and Tim Browne ensuring there’s no let-up.
They’ also have the equally imposing Tony Williams who has been going for 80 minutes or close to it recently with fellow second rower Josh Jackson a regular 80-minute man.
It adds up to ultra-heavy duty fare for the Vodafone Warriors as they set out to counter the sheer size of the NRL’s biggest pack.
The Bulldogs blunted Melbourne 18-12 in their last start against Melbourne on Monday night, a victory which lifted them to fifth on the ladder after four wins and two losses in the opening six rounds.
After hosting ‘home’ games in Wellington the previous three seasons, this fixture casts the Vodafone Warriors in the role of the ‘away’ side.
The first of the three games taken to Westpac Stadium was against the Bulldogs in 2013, a night when the Vodafone Warriors lost 16-24 in front of more than 30,000 members and fans.
The Vodafone Warriors have had limited joy in Wellington so far with one win over Wests Tigers in 2014 and a draw with the Bulldogs in 2001 in their eight previous visits.
This one is a career milestone for Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden – his 50th match in charge – while halfback Shaun Johnson is eyeing a scoring double; he needs one more try to become seventh player to score 50 tries for the club and eight points to reach 600 points. Johnson is level on 592 points with Manu Vatuvei with only Stacey Jones (674) ahead of the pair.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 BODENE THOMPSON | Thompson has had a frustrating start to his 2015 campaign. After missing the Downer NRL Auckland Nines and the trials, he played the first three games of the season and now returns after missing the last three through injury.
#2 DAVID FUSITU’A | The skilful Fusitu’a makes his first appearance at NRL level since facing the Roosters last July. Replacing Tuimoala Lolohea, he has made his way back through the Intrust Super Premiership, playing the last three matches in the centres.
#3 LIGI SAO | Signed after 21 NRL games with Manly, Sao will become Vodafone Warrior #210 if he makes the final 17. He impressed in his comeback from a shoulder injury with a strong all-round contribution for the club’s Intrust Super Premiership side last week.
#4 SHAUN JOHNSON | The Vodafone Warriors’ chief playmaker is joined by Tuimoala Lolohea in the halves. The change in the combination has also resulted in Johnson returning to the No 7 jersey after wearing No 6 in the opening six rounds.
#5 JACOB LILLYMAN | Lillyman has been tasked with coming off the bench this week. With the Bulldogs boasting big men Sam Kasiano, David Klemmer and Tim Browne as their interchange options, ‘Bull’ is in for a big night’s work when he’s joins the fray.