David Fusitu’a switches to fullback, Blake Ayshford returns to the centres and James Gavet comes onto the interchange for the Vodafone Warriors’ 24th-round NRL match against North Queensland at 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville on Saturday (7.30pm kick-off local time; 9.30pm NZT).
After three appearances in the centres, Fusitu’a reverts to the custodian’s role where he performed with aplomb in the previous four games.
Making way for him is Tuimoala Lolohea, who has been named to start at standoff for the club’s Intrust Super Premiership side against the Mounties at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.
“Tui has done a good job for us at fullback during the season but it’s a really difficult position to play, probably the most difficult in the game,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“He needs to get some confidence back in his game as well as having the chance to play in his preferred spot in the halves.
“At the same time David has shown his ability in all the positions in the outside backs. He’s been great on the wing and in the centres while he also brings a lot to the side at fullback.”
With Ayshford moving off the bench to start in the centres – where he was used in the first 18 rounds this season – prop James Gavet comes onto the bench for his ninth NRL game of the year.
“James has been pushing to come back into the team with his form for our ISP side,” said McFadden.
“We’re looking for a lot more from our forwards this week. We need to do much better in the battle in the middle in what will be a really tough game for us.”
After consistently impressive defensive performances in nine straight games (six wins and three golden point losses), the Vodafone Warriors lapsed against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, falling to a 22-41 defeat after being 6-31 down at halftime.
While collectively disappointed with their effort against Souths, the Vodafone Warriors now prepare for the trip to Townsville, one of the most challenging assignments in the game.
It hasn’t been made any easier by the fact the 2015 premiership-winning Cowboys have lost their last three games and have won only six of their 10 matches since May to sit on 28 points, four outside the top four.
The Vodafone Warriors beat the locals 20-16 in Townsville in 2014 and took a 24-22 lead into the last two minutes last April when the Cowboys broke their hearts with a late try to win 28-24.
The 2014 victory is their only win in Townsville in their last 10 matches there; their only match-up with the Cowboys this year has become critical to their finals hopes.
Overall the Vodafone Warriors have an 18-17 win-loss record against the Cowboys but it’s 5-10 in Townsville.
Shaun Johnson plays his 22nd straight match of the season this week, the only player in the squad to have appeared in every game.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
7.30pm, Saturday, August 20
1 DAVID FUSITU’A
2 KEN MAUMALO
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 THOMAS LEULUAI
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 JAZZ TEVAGA
10 ALBERT VETE
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 NATHANIEL ROACHE
15 SAM LISONE
16 BEN MATULINO
17 JAMES GAVET
20 BUNTY AFOA
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN