Clashes all over the park add so much extra edge to today’s 16th-round contest between the Vodafone Warriors and the Cronulla Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Sydney (5.30pm kick-off local time; 7.30pm NZT).
The Sharks have been exceptional this season, putting together a run of 10 wins on end after losing two of their first three matches of the year.
In their last outing they held out premiers the North Queensland Cowboys for a 13-10 win in a battle of the highest quality.
After winning only four of their first 11 matches of the year, the Vodafone Warriors have won their last three to even up their record at seven wins and sevens losses but this will be a test on another level.
They go to a venue where the club has had sporadic success winning only five of 16 encounters in 21 years although Shaun Johnson’s brilliance helped them to a stunning 20-16 victory in their most recent visit in May last year. It was also at this ground that Stacey Jones truly announced his arrival the very first time the clubs met on May 14, 1995 (in a 23-18 win).
Cronulla is set to welcome back its four New South Wales Origin players in centre Jack Bird, standoff and former Vodafone Warrior James Maloney, prop Andrew Fifita and captain Paul Gallen. The Vodafone Warriors have prop Jacob Lillyman from the victorious Queensland side back in the fold.
The Vodafone Warriors are distinct underdogs given Cronulla’s outstanding progress so far this season.
The Sharks have boosted their squad by bringing in two former Vodafone Warriors in their halves, Maloney making Cronulla his fourth NRL club after being signed from the Roosters and Chad Townsend returning to his former club after gaining significant first-grade experience with the Vodafone Warriors through 41 appearances in 2014 and 2015.
Elsewhere Cronulla boasts the rejuvenated Ben Barba at fullback, the freakish Valentine Holmes on the right wing and his centre partner Bird.
Move into the pack and the Sharks are driven by the abrasive Michael Ennis. Around him is a collection of quality forwards including Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Paul Gallen with the likes of veteran Chris Heighington (281 games) and ex-Vodafone Warrior James Bukuya on the bench.
The individual clashes set the match apart: At fullback it’s Tuimoala Lolohea v Ben Barba; on the wings Ken Maumalo v Valentine Holmes and David Fusitu’a v Sosaia Feki; centres Solomone Kata and Jack Bird on the left edge; Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai v Chad Townsend and James Maloney in the halves; Jacob Lillyman and Andrew Fifita in the front row; at hooker Issac Luke v Michael Ennis; Simon Mannering and Paul Gallen at loose forward; and the second row confrontations Ryan Hoffman v Luke Lewis v Bodene Thompson v Wade Graham.
VICTORIES v CRONULLA AT SHARK PARK
May 14, 1995 Vodafone Warriors 23, Cronulla 18
July 19, 2003 Vodafone Warriors 31, Cronulla 24
June 16, 2007 Vodafone Warriors 12, Cronulla 2
August 7, 2010 Vodafone Warriors 37, Cronulla 10
May 9, 2015 Vodafone Warriors 20, Cronulla 16
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CRONULLA SHARKS
Southern Cross Group Stadium, Cronulla
5.30pm, Saturday, June 25
Referees: Jared Maxwell and Chris James
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA (Marist Saints)
2 DAVID FUSITU’A (Marist Saints)
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD (Paddington Tigers)
4 SOLOMONE KATA (Howick Hornets)
5 KEN MAUMALO (Papatoetoe Panthers)
6 THOMAS LEULUAI (Papatoetoe Panthers)
7 SHAUN JOHNSON (Hibiscus Coast Raiders)
8 JACOB LILLYMAN (Richmond Tigers)
9 ISSAC LUKE (Hawera Hawks)
10 ALBERT VETE (Mangere East Hawks)
11 BODENE THOMPSON (Tauranga City Sharks)
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (Campbelltown Collegians) (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels)
14 NATHANIEL ROACHE (Mount Albert Lions)
15 SAM LISONE (Otara Scorpions)
16 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
17 CHARLIE GUBB (University Hunters)
18 ATA HINGANO (Pakuranga Jaguars)
20 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY (Richmond Rovers)
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN
1 BEN BARBA
2 SOSAIA FEKI
3 JACK BIRD
4 GERARD BEALE
5 VALENTINE HOLMES
6 JAMES MALONEY
7 CHAD TOWNSEND
8 ANDREW FIFITA
9 MICHAEL ENNIS
10 SAM TAGATAESE
11 LUKE LEWIS
12 WADE GRAHAM
13 PAUL GALLEN (c)
14 RICKY LEUTELE
15 CHRIS HEIGHINGTON
16 MATT PRIOR
17 JAYSON BUKUYA
18 JOSEPH PAULO
COACH | SHANE FLANAGAN
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 JACOB LILLYMAN | ‘Bull’ faces the task of backing up less than 72 hours after helping Queensland to yet another Origin series triumph on Wednesday night. He put in a solid 33-minute stint for the Maroons, making 93 metres from 11 runs.
#2 BLAKE AYSHFORD | It’s a special day for Ayshford returning to his old club for the first time since signing with the Vodafone Warriors. He’s one of only three players who have appeared in all 14 matches for the Vodafone Warriors so far this season.
#3 ISSAC LUKE | The battle of the hookers will be well worth watching with Kiwi Luke up against the feisty Michael Ennis. Luke was hugely influential in last week’s grind against the Roosters making 114 metres from 16 runs including 10 darts out of dummy half.
#4 THOMAS LEULUAI | Leuluai missed all but eight minutes of last week’s encounter with the Roosters. He has passed all concussion protocols clearing the way to return this week. His organisation and poise was sorely missed last Sunday.
#5 SOLOMONE KATA | Kata faces another big defensive challenge. Last week it was Kiwi centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall; this time Kata and his wing Ken Maumalo have to tame Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes on the Sharks’ red hot right edge.
TOP STATS | v SYDNEY ROOSTERS | WON 12-10
Penalties | Vodafone Warriors 10, Sydney Roosters 3.
Completions | Vodafone Warriors 32/42 (76%), Sydney Roosters 20/31 (65%).
Total runs | Vodafone Warriors 206, Sydney Roosters 156.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors 1817, Sydney Roosters 1478.
Line breaks | Vodafone Warriors 5, Sydney Roosters 4.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors 33, Sydney Roosters 28.
Kicks (kicking metres) | Vodafone Warriors 17 (407), Sydney Roosters 17 (432).
Tackles Made | Vodafone Warriors 276, Sydney Roosters 357.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors 28, Sydney Roosters 33.
Offloads | Vodafone Warriors 21, Sydney Roosters 17.
Errors | Vodafone Warriors 10, Sydney Roosters 10.
Runs | Vodafone Warriors: Ken Maumalo 19, Ben Matulino 16, Issac Luke 16, Bodene Thompson 16, David Fusitu’a 15, Blake Ayshford 15, Albert Vete 14, Simon Mannering 14, Ryan Hoffman 12, Shaun Johnson 12, Solomone Kata 11, Tuimoala Lolohea 11. Sydney Roosters: Daniel Tupou 16, Joseph Manu 14, Shaun Kenny-Dowall 12, Ryan Matterson 12, Kane Evans 12, Latrell Mitchell 11, Sam Moa 10, Jackson Hastings 10.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors: Ken Maumalo 183, David Fusitu’a 159, Blake Ayshford 143, Albert Vete 138, Ben Matulino 131, Ryan Hoffman 127, Solomone Kata 118, Issac Luke 114, Simon Mannering 108, Bodene Thompson 105. Sydney Roosters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall 173, Kane Evans 138, Daniel Tupou 134, Joseph Manu 129, Ryan Matterson 112, Isaac Liu 110, Sam Moa 104.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors: Shaun Johnson 9, Ken Maumalo 5, Toafofoa Sipley 4, Issac Luke 3, Solomone Kata 3, Tuimoala Lolohea 3. Sydney Roosters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall 8, Latrell Mitchell 4, Isaac Liu 4.
Off loads | Vodafone Warriors: Albert Vete 4, Tuimoala Lolohea 3, Issac Luke 3, Ryan Hoffman 3. Sydney Roosters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall 3, Ryan Matterson 3, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 3.
Tackles made | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 53, Bodene Thompson 39, Ben Matulino 30, Issac Luke 24, Ryan Hoffman 21, Sam Lisone 20. Sydney Roosters: Jake Friend 50, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 46, Jackson Hastings 35, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 31, Mitchell Aubusson 30, Dylan Napa 24, Ryan Matterson 22, Sam Moa 22.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors: Sam Lisone 0, Nathaniel Roache 0, David Fusitu’a 0. Sydney Roosters: Sio Siua Taukeiaho 0, Sam Moa 0, Dale Copley 0, Joseph Manu 0, Isaac Liu 0.
Supports | Vodafone Warriors: Blake Ayshford 6, Solomone Kata 6, Nathaniel Roache 5, David Fusitu’a 5. Sydney Roosters: Mitchell Aubussion 7, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 6, Dale Copley 6.
Decoys | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 10, Ben Matulino 8, Ryan Hoffman 7, Bodene Thompson 6. Sydney Roosters: Sio Siua Taukeiaho 4.
RECORD | v CRONULLA SHARKS
Overall Record | Played 35, Vodafone Warriors 16, Cronulla 19.
At Southern Cross Group Stadium | Played 16, Vodafone Warriors 5, Cronulla 11.
Last 10 Games (home and away) | Vodafone Warriors 4, Cronulla 6.
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 249th NRL game (Stacey Jones’ record is 261).
250 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Simon Mannering plays his 249th NRL game.
200 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Matulino plays his 187th NRL game.
200 NRL games (overall) | Issac Luke plays his 202nd NRL game (his 14th for the Vodafone Warriors) after appearing in 188 matches for South Sydney.
150 NRL games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 159th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors (record for the most games for the club by an Australian player). It’s the 221st in his career including 62 for North Queensland.
150 NRL games (overall) | Blake Ayshford plays his 139th NRL game (his 15th consecutive match 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 40th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors; Solomone Kata plays his 38th NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors.
150 NRL tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 149 tries in 217 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 232 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 650 points; Manu Vatuvei has scored 596 points.
500 NRL points | Issac Luke has scored 438 points.
50 NRL tries | Shaun Johnson has 53 tries; Blake Ayshford has 40 tries; Issac Luke 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 58th time. His record in 57 games is 26 wins, 31 losses.
250 games at Mount Smart Stadium | The Vodafone Warriors’ played their 249th game at Mount Smart Stadium last week (they have so far played 246 regular season games plus three home finals).
2000 tries in the NRL | 1969 (1995-2016)
BETTING – CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Cronulla Sharks $1.33, Vodafone Warriors $3.10
SKY SPORT 2: Live from 7.00pm (kick-off 7.30pm NZT), Saturday, June 25