Utility Chanel Harris-Tavita and middle forward Ben Murdoch-Masila are poised to return from injury in the Vodafone Warriors’ penultimate match of the season against the NRL’s benchmark side Penrith at BlueBet Stadium on Friday (6.00pm kick-off local time; 8.00pm NZT).
Interim head coach Stacey Jones said today that Harris-Tavita had been close to coming back into the side against North Queensland last week after recovering from the MCL knee strain he picked up against Melbourne at Mount Smart Stadium on July 29.
It gives the 23-year-old Harris-Tavita the chance to make two last appearances for the club following the decision he announced in May to take a break from the game.
For Murdoch-Masila (31) this week is like starting all over again.
The powerhouse Mate Ma’a Tonga international has been side-lined since June 12 after leaving the field in excruciating pain after dislocating his left elbow in the round 14 match against Cronulla-Sutherland.
Murdoch-Masila had his arm in a brace for some time before he was able to resume work in his quest to make just his 10th appearance this season.
Match: Panthers v Warriors
Round 24 -
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan EdwardsFullback for Warriors is number 1 Reece Walsh
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Taylan MayWinger for Warriors is number 2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Centre for Panthers is number 3 Izack TagoCentre for Warriors is number 3 Viliami Vailea
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Warriors is number 18 Adam Pompey
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Warriors is number 5 Edward Kosi
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jarome LuaiFive-Eighth for Warriors is number 6 Chanel Harris-Tavita
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Sean O'SullivanHalfback for Warriors is number 7 Shaun Johnson
Prop for Panthers is number 8 Moses LeotaProp for Warriors is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Apisai KoroisauHooker for Warriors is number 14 Freddy Lussick
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Warriors is number 10 Tohu Harris
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau2nd Row for Warriors is number 12 Josh Curran
2nd Row for Panthers is number 20 Chris Smith2nd Row for Warriors is number 16 Eliesa Katoa
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Warriors is number 15 Dunamis Lui
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Mitch KennyInterchange for Warriors is number 13 Bunty Afoa
Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Matthew EisenhuthInterchange for Warriors is number 17 Tom Ale
Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Spencer LeniuInterchange for Warriors is number 21 Ben Murdoch-Masila
Interchange for Panthers is number 19 J'maine HopgoodInterchange for Warriors is number 23 Taniela Otukolo
Replacement for Panthers is number 18 Sunia TuruvaReplacement for Warriors is number 24 Jackson Frei
- Referee: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Belinda Sharpe
- Touch Judge: Chris Sutton
- Senior Review Official: Ashley Klein
While Jones has been able to call on Harris-Tavita and Murdoch-Masila for Friday’s daunting challenge against the Panthers, he conceded today the wear and tear of the season meant some players were battling to be fit for the trip to Penrith.
One who will front again is the remarkably consistent Bunty Afoa, who has been entrusted with a starting role at loose forward in the wake of Jazz Tevaga being ruled out with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Eyeing his 23rd straight appearance of the season, Afoa has the distinction of being the only Vodafone Warriors player to have played in every match of the campaign.
After their pulsating 42-18 win over Canterbury Bankstown and Mount Smart Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors slid to their heaviest loss in history to the Cowboys (4-48) after being only 4-12 down in the shadow of half.
Having faced the impressive second-placed North Queensland last week, the pressure will be on again taking on the defending premiers who last week secured the minor premiership with two rounds to spare.
The Panthers posted a 40-6 victory when the two sides met in Redcliffe in June, their fifth on end over the Vodafone Warriors since 2019.
This will be the first time since then that the two sides have met at Penrith's home game. On the last occasion the Vodafone Warriors had a 30-10 win. Afoa and captain Tohu Harris are the only survivors from that triumph while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was in the beaten Penrith side.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PENRITH PANTHERS
BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
6.00pm, Friday, August 26
1 REECE WALSH
2 DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK
3 VILIAMI VAILEA
4 MARCELO MONTOYA
5 EDWARD KOSI
6 CHANEL HARRIS-TAVITA
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE
9 WAYDE EGAN
10 TOHU HARRIS (c)
11 EUAN AITKEN
12 JOSH CURRAN
13 BUNTY AFOA
14 FREDDY LUSSICK
15 DUNAMIS LUI
16 ELIESA KATOA
17 TOM ALE
18 ADAM POMPEY
20 ROCCO BERRY
21 BEN MURDOCH-MASILA
22 DAEJARN ASI
23 TANIELA OTUKOLO
Head coach | STACEY JONES