Experienced forwards Adam Blair, Issac Luke and Tohu Harris have all been named to start in the Vodafone Warriors’ 21st-round NRL encounter with St George Illawarra at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on Saturday (3.00pm kick-off local time; 5.00pm NZT).
Harris (knee) and Luke (calf) were listed in the initial line-up for last Sunday’s encounter with Gold Coast but were later ruled out after failing to recover sufficiently.
Blair was serving a one-match suspension but, along with Luke and Harris, he returns in a starting forward pack showing three changes from the combination used in the 12-36 loss to the Titans.
Luke slots in for Jazz Tevaga, Harris for Joseph Vuna and Blair for Simon Mannering. As a result, Tevaga and Mannering – who makes his 296th career appearance this week – are named among the first four players on the extended bench along with Bunty Afoa and Leivaha Pulu. Pulu played 36 minutes last week in his first NRL outing since April 14.
The other four players on the interchange are utility Peta Hiku, halfback Mason Lino, prop Sam Lisone and Vuna.
It was hoped Harris would be ready to make his comeback last week but he has now been set for this battle against the fourth-placed Dragons, who are on 28 points, four ahead of the eighth-placed Vodafone Warriors. He has missed the last four outings against Penrith, Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast.
Luke is in line to return at dummy half after picking up a calf muscle injury in the 6-12 loss to the Storm on July 22.
With Harris in his regular spot on the right edge and Blair back in the No 13 jersey, Mannering reprises an interchange role he has filled seven times previously this season, five of them coinciding with wins over North Queensland (home), Wests Tigers (home), Parramatta (away), Manly (away) and the Cowboys (away).
The backline named is unchanged from the one used against the Titans.
The Vodafone Warriors have stayed in Australia this week, spending the start of the week on the Gold Coast before travelling to Wollongong on Thursday before their final field session on Friday.
The last time the two teams met in the seventh round in Auckland on April 20, the Vodafone Warriors prevailed 20-12 to end the Dragons’ season-opening run of six wins.
Both teams have been battling for form recently, each winning one of their last four games.
St George Illawarra has a clear advantage over the Vodafone Warriors in the sides’ 27 meetings since their first in 1999. The Dragons have won 21 times with two of those losses coming in the last four encounter and both at Mount Smart. The Vodafone Warriors are winless in 10 encounters in Wollongong.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
3.00pm, Saturday, August 4, 2018
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (c)
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 GERARD BEALE
4 SOLOMONE KATA
5 KEN MAUMALO
6 BLAKE GREEN
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 JAMES GAVET
9 ISSAC LUKE
10 AGNATIUS PAASI
11 ISAIAH PAPALI’I
12 TOHU HARRIS
13 ADAM BLAIR
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 SIMON MANNERING
16 LEIVAHA PULU
17 BUNTY AFOA
18 PETA HIKU
20 MASON LINO
21 SAM LISONE
22 JOSEPH VUNA
HEAD COACH | STEPHEN KEARNEY