Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney has today retained the same starting line-up used in the club’s final trial for his debut NRL match in charge against the Newcastle Knights at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off; game day sponsor: Vodafone).
Albert Vete and Charlie Gubb will again start in the front row as they did in the 26-6 win over the Gold Coast Titans in Palmerston North on February 19.
Ata Hingano is confirmed at standoff, Ken Maumalo on the left wing and Ryan Hoffman and Bunty Afoa are paired in the second row.
The match doubles as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s first NRL outing since April 16 last year and also his first-grade debut as captain.
“Those players earned the opportunity for the first match of the season,” said Kearney.
“There were a lot of good signs from them against the Titans. Having said that, there are lots of areas we need to improve on.”
The NRL has instituted a new team-naming protocol this season which requires all clubs to list 21 players each Tuesday with the squad to be trimmed to 19 24 hours before the game. The final playing 17 – confirmed an hour before kick-off – must come from the 19-man group.
Kearney has included two players on the extended bench who are in line to make their NRL debuts – second rower Isaiah Papali’i (18) and utility Erin Clark (19).
Seasoned Jacob Lillyman and Sam Lisone, closing in on 50 NRL appearances, are also on the interchange along with second rower Bodene Thompson, halfback Mason Lino, prop James Gavet and centre Blake Ayshford.
The contest against the Knights marks the first time the Vodafone Warriors have opened a season at their home ground since beating the Parramatta Eels 26-18 in 2009 (which happens to be the last time they’ve started a campaign with a victory).
As the season starts, veteran back rower Simon Mannering is only four matches short of topping Stacey Jones’ club record 261 NRL appearances while halfback Shaun Johnson needs eight more points to top Jones’ mark for most points (674).
Hoffman is 14 games away from joining the NRL’s 300-game club, Tuivasa-Sheck needs nine more games to reach the 100-mark and right wing Tuimoala Lolohea plays his 49th game.
The Vodafone Warriors have an impressive recent record against Newcastle. They’ve won 10 of the last 11 contests at Mount Smart stretching back to 2006. If they win this one it will be the club’s 249th victory overall.
The Vodafone Warriors begin their 2017 season with a triple-header on Sunday. In the first match the Vodafone Junior Warriors face the Knights in their NYC encounter (11.45am kick-off) followed by the Intrust Super Premiership match against Newcastle (1.45pm kick-off).
VODAFONE WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, March 05
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (c)
2 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
3 DAVID FUSITU’A
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 KEN MAUMALO
6 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 ALBERT VETE
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 CHARLIE GUBB
11 BUNTY AFOA
12 RYAN HOFFMAN
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 ERIN CLARK
15 JACOB LILLYMAN
16 SAM LISONE
17 ISAIAH PAPALI’I
18 BODENE THOMPSON
20 MASON LINO
21 JAMES GAVET
22 BLAKE AYSHFORD
HEAD COACH | STEPHEN KEARNEY