Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is confirmed to start and King Vuniyayawa has been called up to make his debut in the Vodafone Warriors' first-round NRL match against the Newcastle Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium today (3.00pm kick-off local time; 5.00pm NZT).
Tuivasa-Sheck has been cleared after recovering from a foot injury he picked up in the club's final NRL trial against the Wests Tigers in Rotorua on March 1.
His inclusion sees hooker Karl Lawton drop off the bench with Vuniyayawa promoted to become Vodafone Warrior #243.
He will be the third NRL debutant alongside Jamayne Taunoa-Brown (#241) and Eliesa Katoa (#242) while hooker Wayde Egan (#240) makes his first appearance for the club after being signed from Penrith.
Another feature of the match will see second rower Adam Blair taking the record for the most NRL appearances by a New Zealander. He'll play his 312th match, moving ahead of the great Ruben Wiki (311)
Taunoa-Brown's inclusion on the interchange bench continues a hectic last month which has seen him go from an on-trial contract to a fulltime deal after representing the Vodafone Warriors at the Perth NRL Nines and joining the Australian Indigenous squad for the All-Stars clash against the Maori Kiwis in Robina on February 22.
Taunoa-Brown, who also has Maori heritage, featured in the club’s final NRL trial against Wests Tigers in Rotorua on March 1 and now has his first-grade opportunity after playing in lower grades during stints with the Melbourne Storm and the Newcastle Knights as well as Norths Devils when he was with the Brisbane Broncos.
Katoa, born in Hihifo in Tonga, has impressed throughout the offseason after having his first taste of rugby league with the club’s under-20 side last year. He was used in both NRL trials in Palmerston North and Rotorua.
Kodi Nikorima is the fourth player on the bench with Lawton, Hayze Perham, Leivaha Pulu and Taane Milne omitted from the original squad.
Match: Knights v Warriors
Round 1 -
Fullback for Knights is number 1 Kalyn PongaFullback for Warriors is number 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Winger for Knights is number 2 Edrick LeeWinger for Warriors is number 2 Patrick Herbert
Centre for Knights is number 3 Enari TualaCentre for Warriors is number 3 David Fusitu'a
Centre for Knights is number 4 Gehamat ShibasakiCentre for Warriors is number 4 Peta Hiku
Winger for Knights is number 5 Hymel HuntWinger for Warriors is number 5 Ken Maumalo
Five-Eighth for Knights is number 6 Kurt MannFive-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Chanel Harris-Tavita
Halfback for Knights is number 7 Mitchell PearceHalfback for Warriors is number 7 Blake Green
Prop for Knights is number 8 David KlemmerProp for Warriors is number 8 Leeson Ah Mau
Hooker for Knights is number 9 Jayden BraileyHooker for Warriors is number 9 Wayde Egan
Prop for Knights is number 10 Daniel SaifitiProp for Warriors is number 10 Lachlan Burr
2nd Row for Knights is number 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Adam Blair
2nd Row for Knights is number 12 Mitchell Barnett2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Tohu Harris
Lock for Knights is number 13 Herman Ese'eseLock for Warriors is number 13 Isaiah Papali'i
Interchange for Knights is number 14 Connor WatsonInterchange for Warriors is number 14 Kodi Nikorima
Interchange for Knights is number 15 Jacob SaifitiInterchange for Warriors is number 15 Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Interchange for Knights is number 16 Tim GlasbyInterchange for Warriors is number 16 Eliesa Katoa
Interchange for Knights is number 17 Aidan GuerraInterchange for Warriors is number 18 King Vuniyayawa
- Referee: Henry Perenara
- Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Touch Judge: Kasey Badger
- Senior Review Official: Jared Maxwell
The club’s 2019 NRL rookie of the year Chanel Harris-Tavita has been named to partner Blake Green in the halves.
Playing his 148th career game will be second rower Tohu Harris in what will be his first NRL outing in nine months since being side-lined with a foot injury after the June 14 encounter with Gold Coast last year.
This will be the third time in the last six seasons that the Vodafone Warriors have opened the season against the Knights. They’ve had wins in two of their last three outings at McDonald Jones Stadium and have an 8-10 win-loss record in 18 matches in Newcastle.
In 41 matches overall the Vodafone Warriors have a 21-19 advantage with one game drawn.