Tuesday 23 July 2013 2:28 PM
Ngani Laumape comes onto the right wing for the injured Glen Fisiiahi in the only team change for the Vodafone Warriors’ 20th-round NRL encounter with Melbourne at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (2.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Suzuki).
Fisiiahi is out for the season requiring surgery after tearing his right pectoral muscle in last Friday night’s 24-14 win against Wests Tigers.
Rookie Laumape (20) has been given the chance to come back into the side for his ninth appearance after last being used on the left wing when he replaced veteran Manu Vatuvei for the July 7 clash against South Sydney.
The Palmerston North Boys’ High School product has consistently impressed this season as he has alternated between playing for the Vodafone Warriors and for the Auckland Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup. He tops the club’s statistics for most average runs per game (14.2) and average metres per game (131).
“It’s a shattering end to the season for Glen and we all share his disappointment," said Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott.
“He has been a key player for us but we also have great confidence in Ngani who has done a terrific job for us every time he has been called on at this level.
“Through Glen’s misfortune, Ngani now has the chance to put some games together.”
Elliott has retained the other 16 players used against the Tigers. Ben Matulino has been named in the starting front row as he was last week but he subsequently swapped places with Jacob Lillyman.
After selecting an extended bench in recent weeks, Elliott has stuck with four this week – Lillyman and Suaia Matagi as the propping options and interchange regulars Todd Lowrie and Dominique Peyroux.
With the Michael Moore Trophy at stake, this is one of the feature clashes in the NRL’s Rivalry Round as teams eye the last seven rounds of the regular season.
It will also serve as a testimonial occasion for Vatuvei, celebrating his 10th season in the NRL since he arrived on the scene in 2004. The 27-year-old, along with Jerome Ropati, will be honoured at a Sir Peter Leitch-organised double testimonial luncheon at the Ellerslie Convention Centre on Thursday.
In his 165th career appearance on Sunday, Vatuvei’s contribution to the club and the game will be acknowledged in a number of ways. With 112 tries in total, he has either led or shared top spot in the club’s try-scoring charts each of the last six seasons and is again leading the race this year with 10 in 12 games (just ahead of Konrad Hurrell with nine in 13 games). He enjoys a high strike rate against the Storm with 10 tries in 12 matches.
Melbourne, fortified by returning Origin players Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman, goes into the match third on the table with 27 points while the Vodafone Warriors sit 11th on 20 points with just two points covering seven teams sitting fifth to 11th.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v MELBOURNE STORM
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
2.00pm, Sunday, July 28
1 KEVIN LOCKE
2 NGANI LAUMAPE
3 DANE NIELSEN
4 KONRAD HURRELL
5 MANU VATUVEI
6 THOMAS LEULUAI
7 SHAUN JOHNSON
8 SAM RAPIRA
9 NATHAN FRIEND
10 BEN MATULINO
11 FELETI MATEO
12 SIMON MANNERING (c)
13 ELIJAH TAYLOR
14 SUAIA MATAGI
15 JACOB LILLYMAN
16 TODD LOWRIE
17 DOMINIQUE PEYROUX
HEAD COACH: MATTHEW ELLIOTT