Halfback Shaun Johnson will return from his knee injury in the Vodafone Warriors’ last home game of the season against Manly at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off).
The 26-year-old has been sidelined with a posterior cruciate ligament complaint since the club’s 19th-round encounter with Penrith at home on July 14.
The Vodafone Warriors were leading 22-18 when Johnson was helped off the field after 62 minutes. They went on to lose the match 22-34 and have been beaten in their five matches since by North Queensland, Cronulla, Newcastle, Canberra and South Sydney.
Partnering Johnson in the halves again is Kieran Foran, who left the field in last Friday’s loss to South Sydney but has been named to face his former club in his last home game for the Vodafone Warriors.
With Issac Luke named at hooker following Nathaniel Roache’s season-ending injury the starting halves-hooker combination boasts 543 NRL appearances.
In their last home game against Canberra, the Vodafone Warriors, missing both Foran and Johnson, started with Ata Hingano, Mason Lino and Roache, who had never played together at NRL level before and had only 12 starts among their combined tally of 36 first-grade appearances. Hingano and Lino are both included on the extended bench this week.
As well as welcoming Johnson, head coach Stephen Kearney has Ben Matulino back on deck after he served a one-match suspension last week. However, his return is offset by veteran Jacob Lillyman’s season-ending bicep injury, which he picked up 36 minutes into his 250th milestone match against the Rabbitohs (after he’d made 108 metres from 11 carries).
As well as the Foran, Matulino, second rower Ryan Hoffman and interchange prop Charlie Gubb are set for their farewell appearances in front of the home crowd at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.
Matulino had hit his best form of the season before the South Sydney contest. In his previous four matches he had made 134 metres against North Queensland, 143 against Cronulla, 199 against Newcastle and 153 against Canberra.
Wing David Fusitu’a, the side’s top try scorer with 10 – one ahead of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – makes his 23rd appearance of the season on Sunday, the only player who hasn’t missed a game this year.
After making it five wins on end when they beat the Vodafone Warriors 26-22 in Perth on July 1, the Sea Eagles have lost five of their last seven matches, mixing home wins over Wests Tigers and the Sydney Roosters with losses to Penrith, St George Illawarra, Melbourne, Wests Tigers and Canterbury-Bankstown.
They have a 22-8 winning edge in 30 encounters against the Vodafone Warriors since 1995, making them the Mount Smart club’s second toughest opponents behind only the Dragons. In Auckland, their record is the best of all opponents with only three losses in 14 meetings while they have won 12 of the last 13 matches at all venues.
The Vodafone Warriors last beat the Sea Eagles 18-16 in Auckland in 2013.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MANLY SEA EAGLES
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, August 27
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (c)
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 BLAKE AYSHFORD
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 KEN MAUMALO
6 KIERAN FORAN
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 BEN MATULINO
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 SAM LISONE
11 BUNTY AFOA
12 RYAN HOFFMAN
13 SIMON MANNERING
14 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
15 CHARLIE GUBB
16 ISAIAH PAPALI’I
17 JAZZ TEVAGA
18 CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD
20 CHRIS SATAE
21 JAMES BELL
22 MASON LINO
HEAD COACH | STEPHEN KEARNEY