Utility Sam Cook has been brought in on the left wing to replace the unavailable Bureta Faraimo in the Vodafone Warriors’ Intrust Super Premiership preliminary final against Wyong at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney today (1.05pm kick-off local time; 3.05pm NZT).
Faraimo, a midseason signing from Parramatta, travelled to North America earlier this week to represent the United States Hawks against the Canada Wolverines in Toronto today.
Faraimo scored three tries and kicked a goal as the Americans warmed up for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup by beating the Canadians 36-18 to take out the Colonial Cup and the Rugby League Americas Championship.
Cook hadn’t missed a match this season until last Sunday’s 30-6 semi-final win against Newcastle.
Vodafone Warriors coach Ricky Henry has made two other starting line-up changes for the clash against the minor premiership-winning Wyong Roos.
Loose forward James Bell moves to start at hooker with Manaia Cherrington going to the bench while Albert Vete fills Bell's spot in the run-on side.
The Vodafone Warriors meet a Wyong side which advanced directly to week three of the playoffs after beating fourth-placed Canterbury-Bankstown 34-26 in the qualifying finals in week one. The winner of today’s match advances to the grand final next weekend.
Roosters star Lattrell Mitchell scored two tries in Wyong’s 20-14 success over the Vodafone Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium in late April while the Vodafone Warriors scored a late converted try to draw 26-26 with the Roosters’ feeder side in round 24 last month.
Wyong finished four points clear of the second-placed Vodafone Warriors in the regular season. Familiar faces for the Roos this year have included halves Mitchell Cornish and Jayden Nikorima, centre Joseph Manu and Eloni Vunakece, all of whom have appeared at NRL level for the Roosters while Cornish has also played for Canberra.
The Vodafone Warriors’ squad includes 13 players with NRL experience, the only four non-first graders being Cook, centre Junior Pauga, prop Daniel Palavi and second rower Ofahiki Ogden, all former NYC players for the club. The most experienced NRL players are Vete (44 games) and Charlie Gubb (40 games).
The Vodafone Warriors overcame a shortage of possession, a corresponding heavy defensive workload, a lop-sided penalty count and a modest completion rate to account for the Knights convincingly last Sunday night.
Possession favoured Newcastle 56 per cent to 44 percent while the Vodafone Warriors completed only 25 of 37 sets (68 per cent) and also lost the penalty count 10-5. It resulted in them making 346 tackles to just 277 for Newcastle yet they worked their way to a 30-0 lead before conceding a try inside the final three minutes. While they defended courageously they also benefited from superb kicking games from Mason Lino and Ata Hingano.
The performance gave the Vodafone Warriors the chance to make the ISP grand final for just the second time. As a joint Vodafone Warriors-Auckland Rugby League venture, the Auckland Vulcans lost the then-New South Wales Cup grand final 28-30 to Canterbury-Bankstown in 2011.
Centre Matt Allwood becomes the fifth player to make 50 ISP appearances for the club since it took over the running of the side in 2014. He follows John Palavi and Upu Poching plus Bell (64 games) and Mason Lino (54 games) who also reached the mark this season.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v WYONG ROOS
Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
1.05pm, Sunday, September 17
1 ZAC SANTO
2 CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD
3 MATTHEW ALLWOOD
4 JUNIOR PAUGA
20 SAM COOK
6 MAFOA’AEATA HINGANO
7 MASON LINO (c)
8 DANIEL PALAVI
13 JAMES BELL
10 CHARLIE GUBB
11 OFAHIKI OGDEN
12 ISAIAH PAPALI’I
16 ALBERT VETE
9 MANAIA CHERRINGTON
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 LIGI SAO
17 TOAFOFOA SIPLEY
COACH | RICKY HENRY