Steve Price will have four first-time Vodafone Warriors with him – including an NRL debutant – when he makes his 300th first-grade appearance in Saturday night’s NRL season-opening clash against Parramatta at Mount Smart Stadium.
Just two days after his 35th birthday (March 12), Price will play his 88th game for the club to add to the 222 he had with the Bulldogs from 1994-2004, so becoming only the 11th player to appear in 300 games since the competition began in 1908.
Named to make his debut from the interchange bench is 19-year-old prop Leeson Ah Mau, a regular with the Vodafone Junior Warriors in their successful NYC campaign last year and still eligible for that side again this season.
Making their first NRL appearance for the Vodafone Warriors will be three of the major new signings – ex-Brisbane winger Denan Kemp, his Broncos team-mate Joel Moon at standoff and former Queensland State of Origin back rower Jacob Lillyman (North Queensland), who has been named on the bench.
The starting line-up named shows only one change from the run-on combination used in the Vodafone Warriors’ final NRL trial against Gold Coast on February 28. Starting in the front row that night was Russell Packer but coach Ivan Cleary today listed World Cup-winning Kiwi Sam Rapira to partner Price in his historic appearance with Packer coming off the bench.
Cleary said the team to take on Parramatta was selected with just that game in mind.
“This is very much a team for the first round, it’s not an indication of our plans for the whole season,” he said.
“We’re approaching this year with a squad mentality. We have 34 players competing for spots and these are the 17 we’ve picked for this week.
“It’s exciting that one of them is Leeson. He’s another graduate from our NYC side and it’s great for him that he now has a chance at NRL level.”
Cleary said the trial performances had been encouraging and had produced a desired outcome of three wins.
“We were pleased with how the trials worked out but that doesn’t count for very much in all honesty,” he said.
“Now we face the Eels and they’ve also won their three trials. They also have a new coach in Daniel Anderson, who’s coming home in a way I guess after his time coaching here. He has obviously made a lot of changes since he took over.
“It’ll be a huge challenge for us and we know we’ll have to right on our game from the outset to be in contention.” Ah Mau follows fellow Vodafone Junior Warriors Ben Matulino and Packer plus lost team-mate Sonny Fai into first-grade. They all broke into the NRL from the NYC side last year.
Set to become Vodafone Warrior No 147 (Kemp will be 144, Moon 145 and Lillyman 146), Ah Mau follows
his older brother Isaak, who’s with Brisbane, into the NRL. A De La Salle College product and brought up through the Vodafone Warriors’ development system, Ah Mau started playing league with Papatoetoe – the same club Fai started with – before joining Otahuhu. He played 18 times for the Auckland Lions in the New South Wales Premier League in 2007 and 22 times for the Vodafone Junior Warriors last year. Ah Mau will now become just the third player to appear for the club at NRL and NYC level as well as the Vulcans in the NSW Premier League (Fai and Packer are the others).
He was used in all three NRL trials against Melbourne, North Queensland and Gold Coast last month.
Not considered for the opening round were Stacey Jones (calf), Evarn Tuimavave (neck), Mataupu Poching (ankle) and Liam Foran (elbow). The remaining NRL squad players are available to appear for the Auckland Vulcans in their first-round New South Wales Cup clash against Balmain Ryde at Western Springs on Saturday (kick-off 2.00pm).
In a quirk of the draw, this will be the fourth straight season the Vodafone Warriors have taken on the Eels early in the season, all four games played in New Zealand. They lost 14-22 in round two in Hamilton in 2006, won 34-18 in the opening round in Auckland in 2007 and 30-16 in round two at Mt Smart Stadium last year.
After memorial services in Otahuhu yesterday and at Bethells Beach today, Sonny Fai will be remembered before kick-off in the NRL match on Saturday night. Both teams will come onto the field early for a minute’s silence.
The Vodafone Warriors will wear black arm bands in every game this season – as they have done in their trials – and their new Canterbury-designed jerseys will feature a special acknowledgement of their missing team-mate. Embroidered on the jerseys is Sonny’s signature and his official club number 138, sitting above the Vodafone Warriors’ logo.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland 7.30pm, Saturday, March 14
STEVE PRICE (c)
MICHEAL LUCK Interchange: 14
17 LEESON AH MAU
Yeah, good on Leeson for making his debut. He really impressed me last year with his footwork and speed for a big guy. I expect he'll make way for a fit Jesse Royal whenever that may be. Lillyman obviously isn't all that fit either.
Great team though, even with the lack of experience, 1 - 17 is super strong.
The only difference I had in my team was Poching for Ah Mau, but I see that's a no go due to injury. I didn't think Royal would be ready, and I figured either Leeson or Upu certainly are mature enough for this grade of football. They are quality talents.
Great to see Fien and Moon partner each other, they deserve it from all reports of their performance against the Titans. I have a feeling that Moon is going to be awesome for us.
I think that is a pretty good line up for our first match. lillyman would surely be in the starting line up if he was at full fitness so I think he may not be quite at full fitness just yet. I could also see royal coming onto the bench when he reaches full fitness since in the past that is the kind of rotation cleary has used like with price and wiki always one experienced guy out on the field to lead the boys around.
Yeah that's pissed me off in a way. Last year I got to know where the players came from and put the faces to the names weeks before I watched it on tv. This saturday I won't know any new players.
Whoever runs that website and is in charge of updating it either needs the boot or needs to get paid more. That website hasn't changed in at least 5 seasons. Same lightning strike black and grey set up. They've got players blogging over at vodafone onetribe but their own website looks like a ghost-town.