Manu Vatuvei returns in one of six personnel changes made for the Vodafone Warriors’ 13th-round NRL clash against Brisbane at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday (5.00pm kick-off).
The 30-year-old Vatuvei is back in the side for the first time since he lined up against Melbourne on April 25.
He scored two tries playing for the club’s Intrust Super Premiership side against the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs on May 1 and has missed the last three NRL games against St George Illawarra, Penrith and Canberra.
Saturday’s encounter with the Broncos will be just the sixth NRL appearance of the year for Vatuvei and only his second of the season at Mount Smart Stadium.
Apart from Vatuvei, centre Solomone Kata is back from a one-game suspension while hooker Nathaniel Roache and middle forwards Albert Vete, Charlie Gubb and Ligi Sao have all been recalled on a five-man bench after impressing for the club’s in-form ISP side.
Making way for the six players coming into the squad are Jonathan Wright, Matt Allwood, Jazz Tevaga, John Palavi and James Gavet plus 18th man Toafofoa Sipley who were all in New Plymouth for the 11th-round loss to Canberra.
“It’s terrific knowing Manu is ready to play again,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“His presence alone means so much to the team and what he brings with his effort is critical to our performance.
“Solomone has been one of our best all season and he’ll provide lots of energy while the players brought in on the bench have all earned their call-ups on the weight of what they’ve done for our reserve grade side.
“Nate was our first-choice interchange dummy half at the start of the year until he was injured. He has been back for a few weeks now and has been playing really well so he comes back in.
“With Ben (Matulino) and Jake (Lillyman) playing big minutes we need to rotate some of our other big forwards so they get some more game time into them with the ISP team.”
Like the Vodafone Warriors, Brisbane comes into the contest with back-to-back-losses and three defeats in its last four outings. The Broncos also have six players set to back up after lining up for Queensland in tomorrow night’s first 2016 State of Origin match in Sydney.
This encounter will be the Vodafone Warriors’ 248th game at Mount Smart Stadium, only their fifth of the season at their home ground.
It will be hooker Issac Luke’s 199th career game leaving him in line to join the 200-club in the 14th-round match against Newcastle on June 11.
In their 37 meetings since 1995, the Vodafone Warriors have 15 wins, the Broncos 22. The record in 18 contests at Mount Smart Stadium favours the home side 10-8 with the Vodafone Warriors winning four of the last five since 2010 and seven of the 10 matches against Brisbane in Auckland since 2005.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v BRISBANE BRONCOS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
5.00pm, Saturday, June 4
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
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 NATHANIEL ROACHE
15 SAM LISONE
16 ALBERT VETE
17 CHARLIE GUBB
18 LIGI SAO
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN