Six of the Vodafone Warriors’ new signings will have game time in the club’s NRL trial against the Melbourne Storm at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday (3.00pm kick-off).
Head coach Stephen Kearney’s 23-man squad includes experienced Kiwi Peta Hiku, Cook Islands international Anthony Gelling, Mate Ma’a Tonga players Agnatius Paasi and Leivaha Pulu, Taupo-raised Matiu Love-Henry and 18-year-old Rotorua Boys’ High School product Hayze Perham.
Also selected are wing David Fusitu’a, standoff Ata Hingano and centre Solomone Kata, back in the NRL arena after being involved in Tonga’s fairytale campaign at the Rugby League World Cup.
The most seasoned first-grade player on show will be 167-game centre Blake Ayshford while he’s joined by Toa Samoa World Cup forwards Sam Lisone and Bunty Afoa as well as former Tonga international Albert Vete, who were all NRL regulars last season.
Kearney will also use Toa Samoa wing Ken Maumalo, 2017 NRL rookies Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Isaiah Papali’i and Chris Satae plus Mason Lino, Ligi Sao and Jazz Tevaga who were used at first-grade level last season.
Halfback Lino, the club’s Intrust Super Premiership captain last year, will lead the side on Saturday.
“You get a real sense the players are just looking forward to getting their hands on the ball at last,” said Kearney.
“It has been a long preseason for most of them. We believe they’ve prepared as well as they can but right now they’re just a bit anxious about playing.
“It’s a chance for all these players to have a run and especially for our new players to experience playing alongside their new team-mates.”
Kearney is yet to confirm his starting line-up.
The team travels to Rotorua on Thursday. The players will have a signing session at the Rotorua night markets in Tutanekai Street on Thursday night (7.00pm-8.00pm) and will train at Rotorua International Stadium on Friday morning.
A Harvey Norman Community Warriors contingent including Gerard Beale, Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck and Junior Pauga will visit schools around the Rotorua region on Thursday and Friday as well as running a clinic in Tauranga en route to the Geyser City tomorrow afternoon.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MELBOURNE STORM
Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
3.00pm, Saturday, February 17