Just as Canterbury rugby league’s past and present was in sharp focus last week, so now is Taranaki’s this week as it readies for the first NRL match ever played in the province.
In an NRL season built around the #HistoryHappens theme, the Vodafone Warriors have added a significant chapter by bringing their 11th-round home game against Canberra to Yarrow Stadium on Saturday (7.35pm kick-off).
The strongest possible link with the region has been established through local hero Issac Luke(#206) signing with the Vodafone Warriors and looking forward to a special homecoming this weekend. The lad from Hawera will play his 198th career match and is set to reach his 200th when the Vodafone Warriors meet Newcastle next month.
The first player the original Auckland Warriors actually signed was Okato-born Gavin Hill (#8), who started out in rugby union (playing for Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury and New Zealand Maori) before switching to rugby league and becoming a Kiwi international.
Another notable Vodafone Warriors old boy from Taranaki is Whangarei-born, Waitara-raised former coach and ex-Kiwi Tony Kemp. He was assistant coach to Daniel Anderson before having the top job for the second half of the 2004 season and then 2005.
If the mention of Taranaki rugby league instantly equates to Luke in the modern era, those with longer memories will recall a collection of former Kiwi internationals including two ex-captains in Graeme West and Howie Tamati.
Other former New Zealand Test players with Taranaki roots have included Dave Watson, Willie Talau, Barry Harvey and Bruce Gall as well as Willie Southorn, who was named Taranaki Rugby League’s player of the century. There are plenty of others who wore the Kiwi jersey looking back through the archives.
New Plymouth doesn’t play host to many big rugby league occasions but it has been used for two notable games in recent times.
In 2005, the Vodafone Warriors drew a crowd of close to 10,000 when they beat the Parramatta Eels 20-10 in a preseason trial at Yarrow Stadium. Lining up for the club for the first time that day was Ruben Wiki, who had been signed after a long career with the Canberra Raiders. Also in the squad were Francis Meli, Jerome Ropati, Lance Hohaia, Awen Guttenbeil, Wairangi Koopu, Brent Webb, Clinton Toopi, Monty Betham and Stacey Jones.
Three years later most of the Kiwi players who would go on to win the Rugby League World Cup for the first time were on show with the All Golds when they played the New Zealand Maori at Yarrow Stadium.
One of them was Luke while alongside him were his current Vodafone Warriors team-mates Thomas Leuluai and Manu Vatuvei in a line-up which also included greats Jones, Koopu and Wiki plus Logan Swann.
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 ISSAC LUKE | Local hero Luke is very much the centre of attention in the first ever NRL game played in Taranaki. It’s not his first big game on the ground, though. He was in the All Golds side which played New Zealand Maori at Yarrow Stadium in 2008.
#2 MATT ALLWOOD | Lining up against his former club for the first time, Allwood slots into the left edge centre’s spot replacing the suspended Solomone Kata. It will be Allwood’s third straight NRL outing after being used against the Dragons and the Panthers.
#3 SIMON MANNERING | The machine makes a welcome return after missing much of the Melbourne game and the following games against the Dragons and the Panthers. He stands out as one of the competition’s most consistent and reliable players.
#4 JONATHAN WRIGHT | In his second season with the club, the dependable Wright has been consistently solid again this year, averaging 106 metres and scoring three tries in his six matches so far. Big defensive assignment this week marking in-form Jordan Rapana.
#5 JOHN PALAVI | After waiting more than two years to play NRL football again, Palavi is set for his third consecutive appearance since being called up to face the Dragons on May 1. With the vastly-experienced Simon Mannering back, he shifts to the bench this time.
TOP STATS | v PENRITH PANTHERS | LOST 18-30
Penalties | Vodafone Warriors 7, Penrith 9.
Completions | Vodafone Warriors 23/32 (72%), Penrith 26/348 (76%).
Total runs | Vodafone Warriors 162, Penrith 172.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors 1331, Penrith 1447.
Line breaks | Vodafone Warriors 3, Penrith 5.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors 19, Penrith 23.
Kicks (kicking metres) | Vodafone Warriors 15 (328), Penrith 14 (277).
Tackles Made | Vodafone Warriors 309, Penrith 319.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors 19, Penrith 23.
Offloads | Vodafone Warriors 8, Penrith 20.
Errors | Vodafone Warriors 9, Penrith 7.
Runs | Vodafone Warriors: Tuimoala Lolohea 17, Ben Matulino 16, Jacob Lillyman 15, Solomone Kata 15, Ryan Hoffman 14, Jonathan Wright 13, Shaun Johnson 11. Penrith: Isaah Yeo 15, Peta Hiku 14, Leilani Latu 14, Josh Mansour 13, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 12, Trent Merrin 12, James Fisher-Harris 12, Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11, Bryce Cartwright 11.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors: Ben Matulino 160, Solomone Kata 156, Jacob Lillyman 142, Ryan Hoffman 135, Tuimoala Lolohea 126. Penrith: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 145, Josh Mansour 126, Trent Merrin 119, Isaah Yeo 111, Peta Hiku 110, Leilani Latu 100.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors: Solomone Kata 6, Shaun Johnson 4, Ryan Hoffman 3, Blake Ayshford 3. Penrith: Bryce Cartwright 3, Tyrone Peachey 3, Isaah Yeo 3, Josh Mansour 3.
Off loads | Vodafone Warriors: Tuimoala Lolohea 2, Issac Luke 2. Penrith: Matt Moylan 3, Trent Merrin 3, Josh Mansour 3.
Tackles made | Vodafone Warriors: Bodsene Thompson 51, Jazz Tevaga 43, Jacob Lillyman 33, Ben Matulino 27, Issac Luke 23, James Gavet 20. Penrith: James Fisher-Harris 41, Trent Merrin 32, Peter Wallace 29, Bryce Cartwright 29, Reagan Campbell-Gillard 24, Sam McKendry 24, Leilani Latu 23, Peta Hiku 20.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors: Bodene Thompson 0, Ryan Hoffman 0, James Gavet 0, Solomone Kata 0, Matt Allwood 0. Penrith: Trent Merrin 0, Peter Wallace 0, Sam McKendry 0, Leilani Latu 0, James Segeyaro 0, Josh Mansour 0.
Supports | Vodafone Warriors: Solomone Kata 11, Thomas Leuluai 10, Shaun Johnson 10, Ben Matulino 8, Jonathan Wright 8. Penrith: Peter Wallace 16, Trent Merrin 16, Isaah Yeo 15, Tyrone Peachey 13, Matt Moylan 12, Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11.
Decoys | Vodafone Warriors: Ryan Hoffman 11, Ben Matulino 8, Jazz Tevaga 6, Jacob Lillyman 5. Penrith: Isaah Yeo 5.
RECORD | v CANBERRA RAIDERS
Overall Record | Played 34, Vodafone Warriors 17, Canberra 17.
Home | Played 17, Vodafone Warriors 11, Canberra 6.
Last 10 Games (home and away) | Vodafone Warriors 6, Canberra 4.
At Yarrow Stadium | First NRL match played at ground.
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).
Ligi Sao (#210) made his club debut for the Vodafone Warriors against Canterbury-Bankstown at Westpac Stadium on April 16 (Round 7).
Shaun Lane (#211) made his club debut for the Vodafone Warriors against St George Illawarra at Mount Smart Stadium on May 1 (Round 9).
Toafofoa Sipley (#212) made his club debut for the Vodafone Warriors against St George Illawarra at Mount Smart Stadium on May 1 (Round 9).
NRL debuts | 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).
Toafofoa Sipley (#212) made his NRL debut for the Vodafone Warriors against St George Illawarra at Mount Smart Stadium on May 1 (Round 9).
Most NRL appearances for Vodafone Warriors | Simon Mannering plays his 245th NRL game (Stacey Jones’ record is 261).
250 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Simon Mannering plays his 245th NRL game.
200 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Matulino plays his 183rd NRL game.
200 NRL games (overall) | Issac Luke plays his 198th NRL game (his 10th for the Vodafone Warriors) after appearing in 188 matches for South Sydney.
150 NRL games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 156th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors this week, the 218th of his career including 62 for North Queensland (record for the most games for the club by an Australian player).
150 NRL games (overall) | Blake Ayshford plays his 135th NRL game (his 11th for the Vodafone Warriors) after appearing in 104 for Wests Tigers and 20 for Cronulla.
50 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Sione Lousi played his 50th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors against St George Illawarra on May 1; Tuimoala Lolohea plays his 36th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors; Solomone Kata has played 34 games.
150 NRL tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 148 tries in 215 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 228 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 | Shaun Johnson has scored 616 points; Manu Vatuvei has scored 592 points.
500 NRL points | Issac Luke has scored 426 points.
50 NRL tries | Shaun Johnson has 50 tries; Konrad Hurrell has 41 tries; Issac Luke has 39 tries; Blake Ayshford has 39 tries; Jonathan Wright has 35 tries.
50 NRL games as NRL coach (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Andrew McFadden coaches the Vodafone Warriors for the 54th time. His record is 23 wins, 30 losses.
250 games at Mount Smart Stadium | The Vodafone Warriors have played 247 games at Mount Smart Stadium (244 regular season games plus three home finals).
2000 tries in the NRL | 1950 (1995-2016)
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CANBERRA
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
7.35pm, Saturday, May 21
Referees: Grant Atkins and Matt Noyen
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA (Marist Saints)
2 DAVID FUSITU’A (Marist Saints)
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD (Paddington Tigers)
4 MATT ALLWOOD (Farrer Memorial Agricultural High)
5 JONATHAN WRIGHT (Northern Lake Warriors)
6 THOMAS LEULUAI (Papatoetoe Panthers)
7 SHAUN JOHNSON (Hibiscus Coast Raiders)
8 JACOB LILLYMAN (Richmond Rovers)
9 ISSAC LUKE (Hawera Hawks)
10 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
11 BODENE THOMPSON (Tauranga City Sharks)
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (Campbelltown Collegians) (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels)
14 JAZZ TEVAGA (Burnham Chevaliers, Papakura Sea Eagles)
15 SAM LISONE (Otara Scorpions)
16 JOHN PALAVI (Richmond Rovers)
17 JAMES GAVET (Richmond Rovers)
18 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY (Richmond Rovers)
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN
1 JACK WIGHTON
2 EDRICK LEE
3 JARROD CROKER (c)
4 JOSEPH LEILUA
5 JORDAN RAPANA
6 BLAKE AUSTIN
7 ADAM SEZER
8 SHANNON BOYD
9 JOSH HODGSON
10 PAUL VAUGHAN
11 JOSH PAPALII
12 ELLIOTT WHITEHEAD
13 LUKE BATEMAN
14 KURT BAPTISTE
15 JEFF LIMA
16 CLAY PRIEST
17 JOSEPH TAPINE
18 SAM WILLIAMS
19 FRANK PAUL NUUAUSALA
COACH | RICKY STUART
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Vodafone Warriors $1.70, Canberra Raiders $2.05
SKY SPORT 2: Live from 7.00pm (kick-off 7.35pm), Saturday, May 21