Quartet back for Vodafone Junior Warriors
Wednesday 15 August 2012 2:47 PM
Vodafone Junior Warriors coach John Ackland has brought back four of his first-choice players for the side’s key 24th-round NYC clash against Penrith at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (11.45am kick-off local time).
Prop Ligi Sao, loose forward David Bhana, fullback Omar Slaimankhel and winger Viliami Lolohea are all named for a match the defending NYC premiers must win to stay in the hunt for a second successive minor premiership success.
All four missed the heart-breaking 28-32 loss to North Queensland last Saturday night, a result which saw the Vodafone Junior Warriors finish the round in third spot on the ladder after leading in recent weeks. Also named on a five-man bench is big prop Atu Tupou, who is returning after being side-lined with a knee injury which forced him off the field in his debut against Canberra in early April.
While the Vodafone Junior Warriors have had back-to-back losses, they’re still right in the battle to win the minor premiership, having captured it for the first time last year en route to their second consecutive premiership triumph.
They’re just a point behind Canberra (34 points), level with second-placed Canterbury-Bankstown with Wests Tigers fourth on 32, Penrith fifth on 31 and the Sydney Roosters sixth on 30.
The top three sides all have challenging encounters this weekend. Apart from the Mount Smart Stadium battle, Canberra is at home to the Roosters and the Bulldogs host the Tigers.
In the 25th round, the Vodafone Junior Warriors are away to St George Illawarra and Canberra is at home to Canterbury-Bankstown. The draw sets up the possibility of the Vodafone Junior Warriors and the Raiders playing for the minor premiership in Auckland on September 2.
For now, though, Ackland and his players are focused on recovering from their 10-40 loss to Cronulla and the setback against the Cowboys. The defeat by Cronulla was the heaviest NYC loss the club has had at home in the competition’s five-year history, only the second at home in more than two years and just the 10th overall at Mount Smart Stadium.
Ackland took heart from the team’s display in Townsville with so many experienced players out of the side, including Carlos Tuimavave playing for the NRL side. A difficult assignment in Townsville was made all the more difficult when the side had to contend with a 6-0 second half penalty count in the home side’s favour.
Centre Ngani Laumape maintained his prolific strike rate with a hat-trick boosting his tally to 15 tries in 15 appearances while 17-year-old David Fusitua, moved from the wing to fullback, picked up the players’ player of the day award after making 168 metres from 14 runs and also coming up with three tackle breaks and a line break. The other big ground gainer was again stand-in winger Toka Likiliki with 122 metres from 12 runs.
In his first game back from a long lay-off with a serious ankle injury, Sio Siua Taukeiaho made 81 metres from 10 runs and added 18 tackles and five tackle breaks. He teams up this weekend in a potent back row combination which also includes captain John Palavi and impressive rookie David Bhana.
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
11.45am, Sunday, August 19
VODAFONE JUNIOR WARRIORS
1 OMAR SLAIMANKHEL
2 DAVID FUSITUA
3 NGANI LAUMAPE
4 NGATAUA HUKATAI
5 VILIAMI LOLOHEA
6 PETA HIKU
7 MASON LINO
8 LIGI SAO
9 SILIVA HAVILI
10 NATHANIEL PETERU
11 JOHN PALAVI (c)
12 SIO SIUA TAUKEIAHO
13 DAVID BHANA
14 TRENT BISHOP
15 TOKA LIKILIKI
16 SIULONGOUA FOTOFILI
17 ALBERT VETE
18 ATU TUPOU
COACH: JOHN ACKLAND