Halfback Shaun Johnson and back rower Feleti Mateo both return for the Vodafone Warriors’ trip to Canberra for their 21st-round NRL clash on Sunday (2.00pm local time; 4.00pm NZT).
Johnson (groin) and Mateo (calf) were both late defections from the line-up for last Sunday’s 12-22 loss to competition leader Manly.
Johnson comes back into the halves with Chad Townsend while Mateo is on a six-man bench with Ben Matulino, Sam Rapira, Thomas Leuluai, Tuimoala Lolohea and Sione Lousi.
Johnson has missed just three of a possible 79 matches since establishing himself as a first-choice selection in 2011.
Mateo played 79 consecutive matches for the club until he missed the fourth-round clash against Wests Tigers in Wellington in March.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden said both players had recovered well after being ruled out of the Manly encounter.
“We’re very hopeful they’ll be right to play but we have Tui and Sione there as cover if needed,” he said.
Ex-Raiders McFadden and assistant coach Adam Mogg will be in familiar territory when they head back to the Australian Capital Territory this week.
McFadden had his second victory as Vodafone Warriors head coach against his old club at Eden Park in May – a 54-12 win – but this will be his first in charge in Canberra (he was assistant coach for last year’s 16-20 loss there).
The Vodafone Warriors have won just two wins in Canberra in their history with only one in 11 attempts at Canberra Stadium (a 31-24 victory in 1997 when former All Black Marc Ellis kicked five goals and field goal); the other win in the Australian capital was a 22-10 success in a one-off appearance at Manuka Oval in 2001.
“I’m not concerned about our record there,” said McFadden.
“This game is about focusing on ourselves and controlling what we can control.
“It’s obviously a hugely important match for us in the context of the season.”
The Vodafone Warriors go into the match sitting ninth on the table after a second consecutive loss.
They’re one of six teams on 22 points headed by North Queensland in seventh spot with Brisbane eighth.
The 15th-placed Raiders have an impressive record at Canberra Stadium overall with a winning percentage of better than 67 per cent but their 18-34 loss to South Sydney last night was their sixth in eight matches at the venue this year.
The match will be Ben Matulino’s 147th NRL appearance leaving him in line to play his 150th game when the Vodafone Warriors host the Sydney Roosters on August 24.
The contest to be the Vodafone Warriors’ top try scorer this season has tightened up with Manu Vatuvei and Konrad Hurrell both on 10, Sam Tomkins and Simon Mannering on nine and Johnson on eight. Mannering has had the distinction of scoring eight tries in his last eight appearances.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v CANBERRA RAIDERS
GIO Stadium, Canberra
2.00pm, Sunday, August 3
1 Sam Tomkins
2 Ngani Laumape
3 Konrad Hurrell
4 Dane Nielsen
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 Sam Rapira
17 Thomas Leuluai
18 Tuimoala Lolohea
20 Sione Lousi
HEAD COACH: Andrew McFadden
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.
Page 1 of 10