Warriors five-eighth Thomas Leuluai in action. - Source: Photosport
A nervous Thomas Leuluai will make his return from injury when the Warriors play the Broncos in Brisbane on Saturday.
The 29-year-old utility, who has been named on the interchange bench, has been plagued by a troublesome groin that ruined his World Cup with the Kiwis and has seen him miss 12 games for the Warriors this season.
Confined to light duties on the treadmill, Leuluai returned to full contact training last week and will play his first game since April in a side featuring debutant Agnatius Paasi, also on the interchange.
"We're really happy to have Thomas back in the mix," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden.
"He has been letting us know he's been ready for the last two or three weeks but we are just making sure he's ready to come back (from his groin injury).
"He'll be having some time in the dummy half role against Brisbane and he'll also give us cover in the halves.
"Bringing Agnatius in for his debut is really exciting for us. He's been impressive for our New South Wales Cup side and has worked hard for this opportunity.
"It's tough on Charlie (Gubb) and Sam (Lousi) but Aganatius deserves to have his chance in first grade."
1. Sam Tomkins,
2. David Fusitua,
3. Dane Nielsen,
4. Konrad Hurrell ,
5. Manu Vatuvei,
6. Chad Townsend,
7. Shaun Johnson,
8. Jacob Lillyman,
9. Nathan Friend,
10. Suaia Matagi,
11. Ben Henry,
12. Simon Mannering (c),
13. Sebastine Ikahihifo.
14. Feleti Mateo,
15. Ben Matulino,
16. Agnatius Paasi,
17. Thomas Leuluai,
18. Jayson Bukuya.
NRL ROUND #16 | Nielsen in centres
With incumbent Ngani Laumape facing suspension on a grade three dangerous throw charge, Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden has confirmed a return for Nielsen (29) after last appearing against St George Illawarra on April 19.
The 103-game veteran’s recall for his eighth NRL appearance this year follows five outings for the Vodafone Warriors’ New South Wales Cup side.
The forced Nielsen-for-Laumape swap is the only change McFadden has made to the line-up used in the 19-10 win over Brisbane, a result which has lifted the Vodafone Warriors to 10th on the table. They’re alone on 16 points just behind four teams on 18 points (Brisbane, Melbourne, Parramatta and Wests Tigers) filling sixth to ninth.
“With Ngani on the sideline, Dane has his chance to play in the NRL again,” said McFadden.
“He has been working hard on his game in the New South Wales Cup. He gives our left edge plenty of experience and we’ll certainly need it against a Penrith side that has been travelling really well this season.
“This is going to be a massive challenge for us. We’ll have to improve in a big way on our overall performance against the Broncos.”
Nielsen’s selection for Laumape sees the same bench of Feleti Mateo, Suaia Matagi, Ben Henry and Charlie-Paul Gubb.
Playing in their 2014 Women in League jersey, the Vodafone Warriors will seek to take their record into the black for the first time on Sunday – eight wins and seven losses – but face a Panthers side which beat them both home and away last year.
Manu Vatuvei, named the players’ player of the day after the Brisbane win, makes his 185thcareer appearance this week, drawing level with Lance Hohaia on the club’s all-time list. Only Stacey Jones (261), Simon Mannering (202) and Logan Swann (195) have played more games for the Vodafone Warriors.
While he didn’t add to his record career try tally of 127, Vatuvei was inspirational throughout the contest, with 14 tough carries – mostly out of defence – for 148 metres. What really lifted the side was the series of four consecutive offensive tackles he made early in the second half.
He also stood out for another reason with his hair and beard turned gold after he was forced to bleach them as a team punishment.
Also nearing a milestone is centre Konrad Hurrell who will play his 49th match on Sunday.
VODAFONE WARRIORS V PENRITH PANTHERS
MOUNT SMART STADIUM, AUCKLAND
4.00PM, SUNDAY, JUNE 29
1 Sam Tomkins
2 DAVID FUSITU’A
3 Konrad Hurrell
4 Dane Nielsen
5 Manu Vatuvei
6 Chad Townsend
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Jacob Lillyman
9 Nathan Friend
10 Sam Rapira
11 Jayson Bukuya
12 Simon Mannering (C)
13 Sebastine Ikahihifo
14 Feleti Mateo
15 Suaia Matagi
16 Ben Henry
17 CHARLIE-PAUL GUBB
HEAD COACH: Andrew McFadden
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