Manu Vatuvei returns on the left wing with Tuimoala Lolohea confirmed to start at fullback and Thomas Leuluai in the halves for the Vodafone Warriors’ eighth-round Anzac Day encounter with Melbourne at AAMI Park on Monday (7.00pm kick-off local time; 9.00pm NZT).
Vatuvei, just two short of 150 career tries, will make his fifth appearance of the season after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.
The 30-year-old 214-game veteran’s last outing was the 32-28 golden point win over the Sydney Roosters on April 3.
Lolohea takes over at fullback for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, whose first season with the club has been cruelly ended after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee early in Saturday night’s memorable 24-20 win over the Bulldogs in Wellington.
Leuluai starts his first game in almost a year after coming on to play 64 minutes at halfback following Tuivasa-Sheck’s 16th-minute exit at Westpac Stadium.
With Vatuvei back, utility Jonathan Wright moves to the bench alongside forwards Jacob Lillyman (174 metres against the Bulldogs), Charlie Gubb and Ligi Sao. In his third game of the season, Wright picked up his second try of the campaign on a night when he was one of 11 Vodafone Warriors to make 100 metres plus (118 from 13 runs).
“It’s great having Manu back after a couple of weeks out,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“He’s obviously a hugely important player for us who brings so much to the team.
“While we were delighted to get the result against the Bulldogs, it has certainly been a tough week for the club after losing Roger for the season.
“At the same time we have to move forward now with a massive challenge coming up against the Storm. They showed again how difficult they are to break down with the way they came back to beat Wests Tigers on Monday but we’re always excited to play them.”
The match marks the return of the Anzac Day tradition for the two sides after it was temporarily shelved last season when the NRL marked the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings with five back-to-back Anzac Day matches in Auckland, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane; the Vodafone Warriors hosted Gold Coast.
Now they resume their poignant rivalry at AAMI Park for the seventh Anzac Day clash between the sides dating back to 2009. The Vodafone Warriors won the most recent one in 2014 and also won in 2011 while the inaugural match was drawn 14-14.
The Vodafone Warriors lost the last contest between the two sides in the third round in March, handing back the Michael Moore Trophy which will again be at stake on Monday.
In 37 matches since 1998 the Vodafone Warriors have won 16, lost 19 and drawn two.
Vatuvei will be lining up against the Storm for the 16th time having been in the winning side six times while experiencing one draw and eight losses; he has scored 11 tries in those matches.
The Vodafone Warriors go into the match with three wins in their last four matches in 11th place but level on points with eighth-placed South Sydney. The Storm are fifth on 10 points with two wins and two losses in their last four games.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MELBOURNE STORM
AAMI Park, Melbourne
7.00pm, Monday, April 25
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 THOMAS LEULUAI
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 SAM LISONE
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 BEN MATULINO
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 JONATHAN WRIGHT
15 JACOB LILLYMAN
16 CHARLIE GUBB
17 LIGI SAO
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN