Experienced hooker Nathan Friend returns right on schedule to bolster the Vodafone Warriors for their crucial 17th-round NRL Women in League clash against the North Queensland Cowboys at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (4.00pm kick-off NZ time).
Friend, out of action since breaking his jaw in the 30-20 win against Brisbane on May 05, provides a huge boost for a squad which has endured a steady stream of injuries throughout the campaign so far.
Also coming back into the side from injury is Glen Fisiiahi, who has been named on the left wing after being out of contention for the 19-20 loss to Cronulla with a knee injury. With veteran Manu Vatuvei out for a month with a knee injury, Vodafone Junior Warrior Omar Slaimankhel made his NRL debut as a late replacement against the Sharks.
Friend will be making his 145th career appearance, Fisiiahi just his ninth and his fifth this season.
“It’s good timing to have Nathan back from his injury,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Brian McClennan.
“We’ve certainly missed the experience he brings to the hooker’s role so he’ll really help us a lot there.
“And with Manu out for a bit after his surgery and Glen fit again, it’s a big chance for him on the wing.”
While Friend and Fisiiahi have been recalled, McClennan has also done some reshuffling among the forwards with Elijah Taylor switching back to the No 13 jersey and Lewis Brown – used at hooker against Cronulla – named as a starting second rower. A five-man bench has been listed comprising Jacob Lillyman, Micheal Luck, Sione Lousi, Feleti Mateo and Steve Rapira.
Sunday’s clash (match day sponsor: SKYCITY) will have a real pink hue about it as the Vodafone Warriors mark the NRL’s Women in League initiative. The NRL team will be outfitted in a new pink-toned strip produced by Canterbury of New Zealand while Vodafone Warriors members and all other fans are urged to join the theme by wearing something pink on the day.
With fifth-placed North Queensland sitting on 20 points the Vodafone Warriors (16) have a big opportunity to make inroads on a day which will also be of special significance for Ben Matulino and Micheal Luck.
Matulino will be playing at home for the first time since making his 100th NRL appearance in the club’s last outing against Cronulla. It will provide members and supporters with the chance to acknowledge Matulino’s historic achievement as the first NYC graduate to play 100 NRL games (as well as being the club’s 20th 100-game player).
Luck made his comeback against Cronulla, his first game in almost nine months since the 2011 NRL grand final. On Sunday he’ll play at home for the first time in 10 months having last appeared at Mount Smart Stadium in the last regular game of the 2011 campaign last September, which also happened to be against his old North Queensland club.
And standoff James Maloney will be out to build on his feat of becoming only the second player in the club’s history to score 500 points (Stacey Jones with 674 points was the first). Maloney’s seven points from three goals and a field goal against Cronulla lifted his career tally to 503.
A big day at Mount Smart Stadium with the Vodafone Junior Warriors kicking off at 1.45pm will continue afterwards with a post-match event at The Nation’s Clubrooms at SKYCITY. The entire Vodafone Warriors squad will be in attendance at 7.30pm to meet members and fans while the player of the day winners since the April 15 match against South Sydney will also receive their prize packs. Everyone is invited to join in by going to SKYCITY after the game.
1 KEVIN LOCKE
2 BILL TUPOU
3 BEN HENRY
4 KONRAD HURRELL
5 GLEN FISIIAHI
6 JAMES MALONEY
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 RUSSELL PACKER
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 BEN MATULINO
11 LEWIS BROWN
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 ELIJAH TAYLOR
14 JACOB LILLYMAN
15 MICHEAL LUCK
16 SIONE LOUSI
17 FELETI MATEO
18 STEVE RAPIRA
HEAD COACH: BRIAN McCLENNAN