Every game provides match-ups worth waiting for but there’s a plethora of high-quality contests within the overall war when the Vodafone Warriors face Canberra at GIO Stadium tomorrow (3.00pm kick-off local time; 5.00pm NZT).
It starts in the middle where rival international hookers Issac Luke and Josh Hodgson go head-to-head, both of them highly influential players.
The battle of the front rowers underlines the size advantage the Raiders have with the Vodafone Warriors set to start with Jacob Lillyman (182cm, 105kg) and James Gavet (189cm, 108kg) bashing it up against Shannon Boyd (194cm, 122kg) and Junior Paulo (188cm, 118kg).
Two classy sets of halves will catch the eye, with the Vodafone Warriors boasting Shaun Johnson – nine tries and 12 line breaks so far – and the combative Thomas Leuluai while the Raiders have the in-form Adam Sezer and Blake Austin.
There’s plenty to look forward to out on one side of the field particularly where the Vodafone Warriors have Solomone Kata and Manu Vatuvei on their left edge lining up against Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana, a pair which has caused lots of havoc so far this season. Kata and Vatuvei have 13 tries between them this season (although ‘The Beast’ has had only eight games) while Leilua and Rapana have 15 tries.
Vatuvei remains one try short of becoming just the 11th player in the competition’s history to score 150 tries. He has a terrific record against the Raiders, having scored in each of his last seven appearances against them in amassing 14 tries in total including two hat-tricks.
Also worth waiting for will be the work of impressive young fullbacks David Fusitu’a for the Vodafone Warriors and Jack Wighton for the home side.
This encounter pits fifth (Canberra) against eighth (Vodafone Warriors) two months after the Raiders handed the Vodafone Warriors major disappointment when they won 38-12 in New Plymouth.
Since that night the Vodafone Warriors have put together a run of four wins and two golden point defeats which, together with points from their two byes, have seen them climb from eight points to sit on 20.
During this period they have kept their opponents to an average of just 15.66 points a game.
Going to GIO Stadium presents a different set of challenges. It has been one of the club’s least successful venues with just three wins since 1995 but two of them came in the last two years with a 54-18 win in 2014 and an 18-6 success early last season.
There’s familiarity for head coach Andrew McFadden, assistant coach Justin Morgan and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ruben Wiki, the former Raiders players who once again have the chance to reacquaint themselves with their old surroundings.
CHECK OUT ALL THE ODDS WWW.TAB.CO.NZ
Head to head | Canberra Raiders $1.47, Vodafone Warriors $2.55
TV COVERAGE SKY SPORT 2: Live from 4.30pm (kick-off 5.00pm NZT), Saturday, July 23
FIVE KEY FEATURES
#1 JACOB LILLYMAN | An ankle injury kept him out of the clash against Manly in Perth but now the veteran front rower makes a timely return as the Vodafone Warriors size up a challenge from one of the biggest packs in the NRL. ‘Bull’ will be leading the charge.
#2 GIO STADIUM | The venue has presented challenges galore over the years. Until 2014 the Vodafone Warriors had just one win there in 1997 but they have won on the last two outings at the stadium in 2014 and 2015. Invariably a chilly place to play at.
#3 ISSAC LUKE | Of a number of key match-ups, Luke features in one of the best when he mixes it with wily England international Josh Hodgson. It’ll be a duel well worth watching. Kurt Baptiste also provides spark off Canberra’s interchange.
#4 BUNTY AFOA | The 19-year-old has had an impressive introduction to the NRL. In just his second outing last week he started on the right edge, bagging not just one but two near-replica tries off Shaun Johnson. He has been named to start again this week.
#5 RYAN HOFFMAN | Captain Hoffman has been as consistent as always, producing a high-quality display against Manly with 159 metres (his best of the year) and 24 tackles. Apart from the one game he missed through illness he has played every minute of the season.
WINS AT GIO STADIUM, CANBERRA
April 7, 1997 | Auckland Warriors 31, Canberra 24
August 3, 2014 | Vodafone Warriors 18, Canberra 6
March 15, 2015 | Vodafone Warriors 54, Canberra 18
In 2001, the Vodafone Warriors beat the Raiders 22-10 at Manuka Oval in Canberra.
RECORD v CANBERRA RAIDERS
Overall Record | Played 35, Vodafone Warriors 17, Canberra 18.
Away | Played 15, Won 4, Lost 11.
Record at GIO Stadium (1995-2015) | Played 13, Won 3, Lost 10.
Last 10 Games (home and away) | Vodafone Warriors 6, Canberra 4.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CANBERRA RAIDERS
GIO Stadium, Canberra
5.00pm, Saturday, July 30
Referees: Gerard Sutton and Chris James
1 DAVID FUSITU’A (Marist Saints)
2 KEN MAUMALO (Papatoetoe Panthers)
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD (Paddington Tigers)
4 SOLOMONE KATA (Howick Hornets)
5 MANU VATUVEI (Otara Scorpions)
6 THOMAS LEULUAI (Papatoetoe Panthers)
7 SHAUN JOHNSON (Hibiscus Coast Raiders)
8 JACOB LILLYMAN (Richmond Tigers)
9 ISSAC LUKE (Hawera Hawks)
10 JAMES GAVET (Richmond Rovers)
11 BUNTY AFOA (Point Chevalier Pirates)
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (Campbelltown Collegians) (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels)
14 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA (Marist Saints)
15 SAM LISONE (Otara Scorpions)
16 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
17 JAZZ TEVAGA (Papakura Sea Eagles)
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN
1 JACK WIGHTON
2 EDRICK LEE
3 JARROD CROKER (c)
4 JOEY LEILUA
5 JORDAN RAPANA
6 BLAKE AUSTIN
7 ADAM SEZER
8 JUNIOR PAULO
9 JOSH HODGSON
10 SHANNON BOYD
11 JOSH PAPALII
12 ELLIOTT WHITEHEAD
13 SHAUN FENSOM
14 IOSIA SOLIOLA
15 LUKE BATEMAN
16 PAUL VAUGHAN
17 JOSEPH TAPINE
18 LUKE BURGESS
COACH | RICKY STUART
STATS VODAFONE WARRIORS 14 v SEA EAGLES 15
Penalties | Vodafone Warriors 6, Manly 8.
Completions | Vodafone Warriors 31/41 (76%), Manly 33/39 (85%).
Total runs | Vodafone Warriors 189, Manly 176.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors 1593, Manly 1664.
Line breaks | Vodafone Warriors 3, Manly 3.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors 29, Manly 15.
Kicks (kicking metres) | Vodafone Warriors 21 (567), Manly 25 (642).
Tackles Made | Vodafone Warriors 391, Manly 328.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors 15, Manly 29.
Offloads | Vodafone Warriors 8, Manly 4.
Errors | Vodafone Warriors 11, Manly 6.
Runs | Vodafone Warriors: David Fusitu’a 20, Ben Matulino 19, Ryan Hoffman 17, Manu Vatuvei 16, Ken Maumalo 15, Solomone Kata 14, Sam Lisone 13, Thomas Leuluai 12, Simon Mannering 12, Shaun Johnson 11. Manly: Tom Trbojevic 19, Jorge Taufua 18, Darcy Lussick 17, Jake Trbojevic 17, Martin Taupau 13, Matthew Wright 13, Siosaia Vave 11, Jamie Buhrer 10, Nathan Green 10.
Metres gained | Vodafone Warriors: David Fusitu’a 193, Ryan Hoffman 159, Manu Vatuvei 158, Ben Matulino 146, Ken Maumalo 113, Solomone Kata 107, Thomas Leuluai 103. Manly: Darcy Lussick 210, Jorge Taufua 177, Jake Trbojevic 161, Tom Trbojevic 146, Martin Taupau 136, Siosaia Vave 129, Jamie Buhrer 126, Matthew Wright 116.
Tackle breaks | Vodafone Warriors: Manu Vatuvei 4, David Fusitu’a 4, Solomone Kata 3, Shaun Johnson 3. Manly: Jorge Taufua 4.
Off loads | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 2. Manly: Martin Taupau 3.
Tackles made | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 63, Issac Luke 47, Ben Matulino 42, Bunty Afoa 32, Sam Lisone 31, Charlie Gubb 26, Ryan Hoffman 24, Jazz Tevaga 22, James Gavet 21, Blake Ayshford 23, Shaun Johnson 21. Manly: Apisai Koroisau 41, Jamie Buhrer 41, Darcy Lussick 30, Jamie Lyon 26, Nathan Green 26, Lewis Brown 36, Daly Cherry-Evans 23, Jake Trbojevic 22.
Missed tackles | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 0, Charlie Gubb 0, Ryan Hoffman 0, Thomas Leuluai 0, Ken Maumalo 0, Solomone Kata 0, Tuimoala Lolohea 0. Manly: Josh Starling 0, Siosaia Vave 0, Blake Leary 0.
Supports | Vodafone Warriors: Ken Maumalo 9, Manu Vatuvei 7, Blake Ayshford 5, Solomone Kata 0. Manly: Nathan Green 13, Daly Cherry-Evans 9, Matthew Wright 8, Tom Trbojevic 7.
Decoys | Vodafone Warriors: Simon Mannering 9, Sam Lisone 6, Ryan Hoffman 5. Manly: Darcy Lussick 4.
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).
Bunty Afoa (#213) made his club debut for the Vodafone Warriors against Gold Coast at Mount Smart Stadium on July 2 (Round 17).
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).
Bunty Afoa (#213) made his NRL debut for the Vodafone Warriors against Gold Coast at Mount Smart Stadium on July 2 (Round 17).
Most NRL appearances for Vodafone Warriors | Simon Mannering plays his 252nd NRL game (Stacey Jones’ record is 261).
250 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Simon Mannering plays his 252nd NRL game.
200 NRL games (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Ben Matulino plays his 190th NRL game.
200 NRL games (overall) | Issac Luke plays his 205th NRL game (his 17th for the Vodafone Warriors) after appearing in 188 matches for South Sydney.
150 NRL games for Vodafone Warriors | Jacob Lillyman plays his 161st NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors (record for the most games for the club by an Australian player). It’s the 223rd in his career including 62 for North Queensland.
150 NRL games (overall) | Blake Ayshford plays his 142nd NRL game (his 18th 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 43rd NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors; Solomone Kata plays his 41st NRL game for the Vodafone Warriors.
150 NRL tries | Manu Vatuvei has scored 149 tries in 218 NRL appearances. Only 10 players in history have scored 150 tries in the competition. Vatuvei is 11th-equal on the all-time list. The only current players ahead of him are Billy Slater (172 in 278 games) and Brett Stewart (163 in 233 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 655 points (Stacey Jones’ club record is 674); Manu Vatuvei has scored 596 points.
500 NRL points | Issac Luke has scored 460 points.
50 NRL tries | Shaun Johnson has 54 tries; Blake Ayshford has 42 tries; Issac Luke has 39 tries; Jonathan Wright has 36 tries.
50 NRL games as NRL coach (all for Vodafone Warriors) | Andrew McFadden coaches the Vodafone Warriors for the 61st time. His record in 60 games is 27 wins, 33 losses.
250 games at Mount Smart Stadium | The Vodafone Warriors’ played their 250th game at Mount Smart Stadium when they faced Gold Coast on July 2 (they have so far played 247 regular season games plus three home finals at Mount Smart Stadium).
2000 tries in the NRL | 1978 (1995-2016)