Injury and suspension have forced two backline changes for the Vodafone Warriors’ 26th-round NRL clash against Parramatta at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (6.00pm kick-off).
Veteran wing Manu Vatuvei is out with a sternum injury and his centre partner Solomone Kata is serving a one-game suspension after taking an early guilty plea on a grade one dangerous throw charge following Sunday’s loss to Wests Tigers.
The pair’s absence has resulted in a backline reshuffle with David Fusitu’a replacing Kata in the centres, Tuimoala Lolohea moving to fullback and Ken Maumalo – back from a one-game injury absence – and Jonathan Wright named on the wings.
The rest of the starting line-up for this Father's Day fixture is unchanged from the one used in the 24-36 loss to the Tigers, a result which ended the Vodafone Warriors’ chances of reaching the finals for the first time since 2011.
A five-man bench has been named with last week’s interchange players Sam Lisone, Ben Matulino and rookie Ata Hingano joined by two other 2016 newcomers Bunty Afoa and Nathaniel Roache.
“We’ve been forced to shuffle our backline resources around through losing Manu and Sol,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.
“Manu managed to get through the match against the Tigers (making 147 metres from 14 runs) but was in a fair bit of pain and Sol has to sit this one out.
“There was plenty of disappointment over what happened against the Tigers – and there still is – but we have to get back up to finish the season as well as we possibly can to give us something to build on for next year.
“The Eels are in the same position as us. They’ve been playing well most of the season and had another good result against the Dragons last night. We know we’ll be in for a tough contest.”
In easily the busiest of his three NRL campaigns, Fusitu’a makes his 18th appearance of the season this week, starting in the centres for the fourth time.
Recalled for his 47th NRL outing last week, Lolohea had the distinction of scoring the 2000th try in the club’s history; this week he’s named to start at fullback for the 10th time this season.
Second rower Simon Mannering goes into the match just two short of 1000 tackles for the season after making 45 against the Tigers while halfback Shaun Johnson – denied a try by the bunker last week – remains eight short of beating Stacey Jones’ club record of 674 points. He is, however, set to be the only player to appear in each of the club’s 24 matches this season after coming back from the broken leg which ended his 2016 year.
On what is the club’s traditional Old Boys’ Day, standoff Thomas Leuluai will make his 85th and final appearance for the club before returning to England to rejoin Wigan.
This will be the 36th match between the Vodafone Warriors and Parramatta with the Eels 19-16 ahead on wins. In 16 encounters at Mount Smart Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors have an 11-5 advantage including five straight wins dating back to 2008.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
6.00pm, Sunday, September 4
1 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
2 JONATHAN WRIGHT
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 DAVID FUSITU’A
5 KEN MAUMALO
6 THOMAS LEULUAI
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JACOB LILLYMAN
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 ALBERT VETE
11 BODENE THOMPSON
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (c)
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 ATA HINGANO
15 SAM LISONE
16 BEN MATULINO
17 BUNTY AFOA
18 NATHANIEL ROACHE
HEAD COACH | ANDREW McFADDEN