Issac Luke returns to the starting hooker’s role for his Taranaki homecoming while loose forward Simon Mannering comes back from a two-match injury absence for the Vodafone Warriors’ historic 11th-round home clash against Canberra at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Saturday (7.30pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).
Hawera-born-and-raised Luke was on the bench against St George Illawarra and Penrith but now reclaims the #9 jersey as the Vodafone Warriors take the NRL to his province for the first time.
The 29-year-old Mannering missed the last two matches after receiving an ugly facial wound in the eighth-round match against Melbourne on Anzac Day.
Named at prop is Ben Matulino – he was used from the bench last week – ensuring the Vodafone Warriors are in line to use their most-experienced starting pack for the first time this season.
Suspension has forced a significant change in the backline with centre Solomone Kata sidelined for one game after taking an early guilty plea on a dangerous contact charge.
For Kata, the side’s top try-scorer this season with eight in 10 appearances, it stops a run of 34 consecutive games since his NRL debut in the opening round last year.
His absence results in the well-performed Matt Allwood being called in to face his former club. He was brought into the side for the last two games after consistently impressive displays for the Vodafone Warriors’ Intrust Super Premiership side.
“Like Solomone, the telling factor is that Matt is a preferred left side player,” said assistant coach Justin Morgan.
“He’s really comfortable on that side of the field and he'll be working with a good defensive edge as well with Ryan (Hoffman) and Tommy (Thomas Leuluai).
“It’s a huge game for Issac playing in his home province. He got back some form at the weekend, his defence was more consistent and he had a few runs from dummy half, which is what we need him to do. He'll be keen to cement his starting spot in the side.
“Having Simon back in the side is a massive boost. We've missed him a bit. He does a lot of work in and around the ruck and his leadership is excellent as well.”
While he’s back training, veteran wing Manu Vatuvei isn’t yet ready to play again after being on medical leave recently.
An extended bench of five players has again been named with hooker-back rower Jazz Tevaga joined by John Palavi and James Gavet while props Sam Lisone and Toafofoa Sipley have been promoted after putting in strong showings for the ISP side in its 32-16 win over Penrith last Saturday.
The Vodafone Warriors go into the contest with a win-loss-win-loss-win-loss sequence in their last six matches while the Raiders have lost four of their last five, the win a 60-6 result against Wests Tigers.
In 34 matches since 1995 the Vodafone Warriors and Canberra are dead even with 17 wins each but the Vodafone Warriors have won each of the last five matches.
Yarrow Stadium becomes the Vodafone Warriors’ third ‘home’ ground away from Mount Smart Stadium after Eden Park and Westpac Stadium.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CANBERRA RAIDERS
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
7.30pm, Saturday, May 21
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 JONATHAN WRIGHT
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 MATTHEW ALLWOOD
5 DAVID FUSITU’A
6 THOMAS LEULUAI
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 BEN MATULINO
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 SAM LISONE
16 JOHN PALAVI
17 JAMES GAVET
18 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN