Addin Fonua-Blake is confirmed as captain, Chanel Harris-Tavita starts at fullback and returning club favourite Shaun Johnson and Kodi Nikorima are paired in the halves for the Vodafone Warriors’ season-opening encounter with the St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday (4.30pm kick-off local time, 7.30pm NZT).
Fonua-Blake stepped into the captaincy late last season after Roger Tuivasa-Sheck left the club early and is set to continue in the role with appointed captain Tohu Harris recovering from knee surgery.
Used predominantly in the halves in his 37 appearances so far, Harris-Tavita is named at fullback replacing 2021 rookie sensation Reece Walsh, who’s ruled out through suspension.
Clinching the other halves spot alongside prodigal son Johnson is Kiwi teammate Nikorima after impressing for the Māori All Stars on February 12 and in the Vodafone Warriors’ only trial against Melbourne on February 19.
Kitting up as a Vodafone Warrior for the first time in 1281 days is Johnson, the club’s oldest player at 31. Unable to have a warm-up when the trial against Gold Coast was cancelled, Johnson runs out in club colours for the first time since September 8, 2018.
Called up as the only player to make his club debut this week is new signing Aaron Pene, named on a bench which includes Jazz Tevaga, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Bayley Sironen; Pene will become Vodafone Warrior #266.
Match: Warriors v Dragons
Round 1 -
Fullback for Warriors is number 1 Chanel Harris-TavitaFullback for Dragons is number 1 Tyrell Sloan
Winger for Warriors is number 2 Dallin Watene-ZelezniakWinger for Dragons is number 2 Cody Ramsey
Centre for Warriors is number 3 Viliami VaileaCentre for Dragons is number 3 Moses Suli
Centre for Warriors is number 4 Rocco BerryCentre for Dragons is number 4 Zac Lomax
Winger for Warriors is number 5 Marcelo MontoyaWinger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele Ravalawa
Five-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Kodi NikorimaFive-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Talatau Amone
Halfback for Warriors is number 7 Shaun JohnsonHalfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt
Prop for Warriors is number 8 Addin Fonua-BlakeProp for Dragons is number 8 Aaron Woods
Hooker for Warriors is number 9 Wayde EganHooker for Dragons is number 9 Andrew McCullough
Prop for Warriors is number 10 Bunty AfoaProp for Dragons is number 10 Blake Lawrie
2nd Row for Warriors is number 11 Euan Aitken2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Jack Bird
2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Eliesa Katoa2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Jaydn Su'A
Lock for Warriors is number 13 Josh CurranLock for Dragons is number 13 Jack De Belin
Interchange for Warriors is number 14 Jazz TevagaInterchange for Dragons is number 14 Moses Mbye
Interchange for Warriors is number 15 Ben Murdoch-MasilaInterchange for Dragons is number 15 Francis Molo
Interchange for Warriors is number 16 Aaron PeneInterchange for Dragons is number 16 Josh Kerr
Interchange for Warriors is number 17 Bayley SironenInterchange for Dragons is number 17 Jack Gosiewski
Replacement for Warriors is number 18 Jack MurchieReplacement for Dragons is number 18 Jackson Ford
- Referee: Peter Gough
- Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Senior Review Official: Ashley Klein
Unsurprisingly Euan Aitken, Eliesa Katoa and Josh Curran make up the starting back row, Aitken and Katoa performing strongly in the Storm trial and Curran doing likewise for the Indigenous All Stars against the Māori.
NRL novices Rocco Berry (20) and Viliami Vailea (19) are paired as the Vodafone Warriors’ starting centres for the first time; Berry made eight appearances in his rookie season in 2021 and Vailea two.
Taking the other starting prop’s spot in Matt Lodge’s suspension-enforced absence is the reliable Bunty Afoa, who starts the year 16 games away from his 100th NRL appearance.
Club newcomers Ash Taylor and Jesse Arthars are included on the extended bench along with Jack Murchie, Adam Pompey, Pride Petterson-Robati, Taniela Otukolo and Edward Kosi.
Locked in on the wings are Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Marcelo Montoya who established themselves there in the second half of last season.
In taking their first-round match to Sunshine Coast Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors will now be able to count 12 venues where they have played home games, six of those added during the club’s Covid-enforced stay in Australia since 2020.
They take a healthy recent record against the Dragons into this contest. It’s the 33rd clash between the clubs overall with St George Illawarra winning 22 of the previous 32 but the Vodafone Warriors won five on end before being pipped 19-18 by the Dragons at Central Coast Stadium last July.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Sunshine Coast Stadium, Bokarina
4.30pm, Saturday, March 12
1 CHANEL HARRIS-TAVITA
2 DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK
3 VILIAMI VAILEA
4 ROCCO BERRY
5 MARCELO MONTOYA
6 KODI NIKORIMA
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE (C)
9 WAYDE EGAN
10 BUNTY AFOA
11 EUAN AITKEN
12 ELIESA KATOA
13 JOSH CURRAN
14 JAZZ TEVAGA
15 BEN MURDOCH-MASILA
16 AARON PENE
17 BAYLEY SIRONEN
18 JACK MURCHIE
20 ASH TAYLOR
21 ADAM POMPEY
22 PRIDE PETTERSON-ROBATI
23 TANIELA OTUKOLO
24 JESSE ARTHARS
25 EDWARD KOSI
Head Coach | NATHAN BROWN