Bunty Afoa comes into the starting line-up and veteran Adam Blair returns on the bench for the Vodafone Warriors’ NRL Indigenous Round clash against the Brisbane Broncos at the temporarily renamed Rarotonga Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night (7.30 kick-off).
Afoa has been called in from the interchange to replace suspended Agnatius Paasi (out for one game) while Blair fills Afoa’s spot on the bench in line-up otherwise unchanged from the one used in last Friday night’s 30-10 win over Penrith.
Blair’s 298th career appearance comes against his former club after missing the last two games against the St George Illawarra Dragons (suspension) and the Panthers last week when he was omitted from the NRL line-up to play for the club’s Canterbury Cup NSW side.
The 33-year-old Blair is now on track to play his 299th game against his original club Melbourne on June 8 and his 300th away to Gold Coast on June 14.
Saturday night’s game is the first of two blockbuster back-to-back Mount Smart Stadium battles as the Vodafone Warriors continue their 25th season celebrations.
After the Broncos this week and then a bye, the home side takes on the Storm.
The match-up against the Broncos has special significance on a number of fronts.
For just the second time, the NRL Indigenous Round honours New Zealand’s Indigenous people and culture as well as Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.
Appropriately in this 25th season it coincides with the club’s 42nd encounter with original opponents the Broncos. On that night foundation captain Dean Bell (Te Arawa) led the club into battle for the first time and he’ll reprise the role when he walks out ahead of the 2019 Vodafone Warriors to present the Broncos with a gift as part of the Indigenous Round festivities.
It will be a sombre night, though, with the Vodafone Warriors wearing an Indigenous Round strip bearing #52, the number the legendary Quentin Pongia claimed when he played for the club in 1998. He passed away last Saturday and will be farewelled at Greymouth High School at midday this Saturday.
There will be a video tribute to Pongia (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Terino) on the big screen at Rarotonga Mount Smart Stadium while a minute’s silence will be observed before kick-off in honour of the 35-Test Kiwi front rower.
The night will have a special touch for new signing Kodi Nikorima. In the space of three weeks the Kiwi playmaker has joined the Vodafone Warriors from Brisbane, made his debut for his new club at his previous home ground Suncorp Stadium and will now play at his new home ground for the first time against his old club.
The Vodafone Warriors and Brisbane come into the match off back-to-back wins, the home side sitting 10th on the NRL ladder with eight points while the Broncos are 11th on the same points.
In 41 previous encounters, the Vodafone Warriors have won 18 times to Brisbane’s 23. The ledger at Mount Smart Stadium favours the home side 12-9.
In their last Mount Smart Stadium clash in the sixth round last season, Brisbane ended the Vodafone Warriors’ season-opening run of five straight wins with a 27-18 victory.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v BRISBANE BRONCOS
7.30pm, Saturday, May 25, 2019
Rarotonga Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Referees: Ashley Klein and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
1 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (c)
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 PETA HIKU (Ngāriki Kaiputahi)
4 PATRICK HERBERT (Ngāi Tūhoe)
5 KEN MAUMALO
6 KODI NIKORIMA (Ngāi Tahu Nga Rāuru)
7 BLAKE GREEN
8 BUNTY AFOA
9 ISSAC LUKE (Ngā Ruahine Rangi, Te Āti Awa)
10 LEESON AH MAU
11 ISAIAH PAPALI’I
12 TOHU HARRIS (Ngāti Kahungunu)
13 LACHLAN BURR
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 ADAM BLAIR (Ngā Puhi)
16 LIGI SAO
17 KARL LAWTON
18 GERARD BEALE (Ngāti Mutunga)
20 LEIVAHA PULU (Ngā Mahanga, Ngāti Rārua Ātiawa)
21 CHRIS SATAE
22 CHANEL HARRIS-TAVITA
HEAD COACH | STEPHEN KEARNEY (Te Āti Awa)