Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney has included all three of the club's Denver Test Kiwi internationals on an extended bench for Friday night's 16th-round NRL clash against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Mount Smart Stadium (8.00pm kick-off).
Hooker Issac Luke, centre Peta Hiku and wing Ken Maumalo flew out of Denver today and are due to arrive home early on Wednesday morning (NZT).
They were originally scheduled to return home this afternoon but an electrical storm in Denver prevented them flying to San Francisco to link with their homeward flight via Sydney.
Kearney has included all three on his bench after naming a squad of 23 rather than the usual 21. The move comes after an NRL ruling in which any club who contributed four or more players to representative sides last weekend has been given clearance to name two additional players.
Solomone Kata (hamstring) and the competition's top try scorer David Fusitu'a (15 in 13 games) have also been named in the starting side. Kata was forced off the field 52 minutes into his side's round 15 win against the Cowboys while Fusitu'a missed the encounter after picking up an ankle injury in the final training session the day before the game. It ended a run of 55 consecutive appearances stretching back to the eighth round in 2016.
Fusitu'a has been given the chance to fill his regular spot on the right wing, while Gerard Beale has been named to start on the left wing. Simon Mannering, who came off the bench against the Cowboys, will start at lock in place of the suspended Adam Blair.
"With the injury concerns we've had, we felt it was important to name the Kiwi boys in our extended squad," Kearney said.
"But the reality is we haven't even laid eyes on them yet. They'll be home tomorrow after being delayed in the States and we will then make a decision on whether they will play later in the week."
Kearney will reduce his squad to 19, as per NRL rules, 24 hours out from Friday night's kick off.
Also named in the squad are three Vodafone Warriors players who appeared for Toa Samoa in last Saturday's Pacific Test in Sydney – James Gavet at prop, Isaiah Papali'i in the second row and Bunty Afoa on the bench.
With regular hooker Issac Luke named on the bench, 2018 recruit Karl Lawton has been handed the No 9 jersey while Anthony Gelling has been included in the centres.
Utility Jazz Tevaga is also in line for a return after successfully recovering from a recent shoulder operation.
The Vodafone Warriors will be seeking their third consecutive win in the second of three straight Friday night matches, their victory against the Cowboys following a 34-14 win over Manly in Christchurch.
Since opening the season with five wins on end, the Vodafone Warriors have won five of their last nine games.
The Sharks are seventh on the ladder on 18 points with a 9-6 record. Seven of the nine wins have come in their last nine games but they have lost two of their last three against South Sydney and Brisbane while beating Wests Tigers.
The Sharks have been among the Vodafone Warriors' more challenging opponents, more so recently with the ledger 8-2 in their favour in the last 10 meetings since 2012. The Vodafone Warriors' only successes in that time have been a 16-12 win at Mount Smart in 2014 and a 20-16 away victory in 2015. Overall Cronulla has a 21-16 advantage in 37 encounters while the Vodafone Warriors have a 9-8 edge at Mount Smart.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
8.00pm, Friday, June 29, 2018
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)
2 David Fusitu'a
3 Anthony Gelling
4 Solomone Kata
5 Gerard Beale
6 Blake Green
7 Shaun Johnson
8 James Gavet
9 Karl Lawton
10 Agnatius Paasi
11 Isaiah Papali'i
12 Tohu Harris
13 Simon Mannering
14 Sam Cook
15 Chris Satae
16 Bunty Afoa
17 Jazz Tevaga
18 Blake Ayshford
21 Sam Lisone
22 Albert Vete
23 Peta Hiku
24 Issac Luke
25 Ken Maumalo