As well as their 26 fulltime NRL squad members, the Vodafone Warriors have a group of contracted development players and juniors plus train and trial players joining them in the preseason grind for the 2022 NRL season.
Rookie hooker Taniela Otukolo has today been confirmed as the 26th player in the top 30 while young winger Iliesa (Junior) Ratuva is also in the NRL mix after an injury-plagued 2021.
An outstanding schoolboy rugby union player, Ratuva (22) made his comeback late in the 2021 season with three appearances for Vodafone Warriors feeder club Redcliffe in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup.
Aside from Otukolo, Ratuva and the other 24 NRL-contracted players, the Vodafone Warriors’ pre-Christmas preseason training squad comprises three players on development deals, two contracted juniors and seven train and trial players.
Otukinekina (Kina) and Valingi (Lingi) Kepu
The Aorere College-educated twins, who turned 19 on August 23, have just had their contracts extended in deals which will see them join the NRL top 30 squad in 2023 and 2024. After playing their junior football for the Manurewa Marlins and the Otahuhu Leopards, the big boys came through the Sky Sport Future Warriors programme, both playing all six games for the Vodafone Warriors in the Covid-disrupted S G Ball Cup (under-18) in 2020. After training with the NRL squad in Auckland late last year and then Tamworth in the New Year, they were based in Brisbane for the rest of 2021 playing for Redcliffe in the Queensland colts’ competition as well as the Intrust Super Cup.
In 10 appearances for the colts, Lingi scored six tries, averaged 130 metres and 16 tackles a game and made 35 tackle breaks. In 12 games, Kina scored four tries, averaged 124 metres and 15 tackles a game and made 31 tackle breaks. At Intrust Super Cup level, Lingi played seven times for the Dolphins and Kina five times.
The 19-year-old St Paul’s College product also trained with the Auckland-based Vodafone Warriors NRL players in late 2020 before travelling to Tamworth en route to spending the 2021 season with Redcliffe. Another front row prospect, the Marist Saints junior played all six matches for the Vodafone Warriors in the S G Ball Cup (under-18) in 2020. He made six appearances for Redcliffe in the Queensland colts’ competition this year.
SKY SPORT FUTURE WARRIORS
The 18-year-old winger has come through the Sky Sport Future Warriors pathway. He has a background in both rugby league and rugby union, excelling in union for the King’s College First XV. Another player used in the Vodafone Warriors’ foundation S G Ball Cup (under-18) side in early 2020, he spent 2021 in Brisbane where he played for Redcliffe in both the Queensland colts’ under-20 and Mal Meninga Cup under-18 competitions (five games in each).
The De La Salle College product headed to Brisbane in time to join the Vodafone Warriors for their preseason campaign this month. The 17-year-old Otahuhu Leopards utility / ball playing lock is signed on a two-year contract. Like Vaafusuaga, he has combined rugby league and rugby union, the latter with the De La Salle College First XV in the Auckland secondary schools’ competition.
Another six contracted junior players due to arrive in Brisbane in the New Year - Zion Maiu'u, Jacob Laban, Ali Leiataua, Xavier Tito-Harris, Tamakaimoana Whareaorere and Stefania Cowley-Lupo.
TRAIN AND TRIAL PLAYERS
Halfback Ash Taylor leads the group of seven players currently on train and trial deals.
Taylor joined preseason training this week after being released by Gold Coast following the 2021 NRL season. He made 114 appearances for the Titans over the last six years preceded by his one and only first-grade game for the Broncos in 2015.
Also in this group are two players familiar to the Vodafone Warriors in middle forwards Tom Ale and Jackson Frei. Ale made his NRL debut and added two more this year along with nine outings for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup. The season ended in disappointment when he suffered a knee injury. In his third season with the club, Frei made his NRL debut against Canterbury Bankstown and played 15 times for the Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup.
Redcliffe fullback Trai Fuller is well-known to many of Vodafone Warriors players after being a teammate in this year’s Intrust Super Cup. The 24-year-old was named Redcliffe’s players’ player of the year after a season in which he scored eight tries in 14 matches and averaged 163.5 metres a game with a total of 84 tackle breaks.
Adam Cook (21) is also a fullback. He made his NRL debut for Canberra in 2020 – his only first-grade appearance so far – and played 11 matches for the Raiders in the New South Wales Cup this year before signing with the Mackay Cutters midway through the season. He played four times for Mackay.
A third fullback on trial is Northern Pride’s Jayden Corrigan. He scored six tries in 11 games this season, averaging 148 metres. The 25-year-old has previously played for the Tweed Seagulls and Norths Devils.
Prop Garrett Smith (21) rounds out the train and trial players. He had a NRL trial with the Newcastle Knights this year and made 11 appearances for the club in the New South Wales Cup before finishing the season with his hometown club the Mackay Cutters in the Intrust Super Cup.