League: Lillyman lurking for the Warriors

By Steve Deane

Jacob Lillyman. Photo / Greg Bowker.
Jacob Lillyman. Photo / Greg Bowker.

Jerome Ropati and Konrad Hurrell will be back while senior Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman is lurking ahead of Saturday night's clash with the soaring Brisbane Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium.

With Sam Rapira having succumbed to an ankle ligament strain that could keep him out for three weeks, a first appearance of the season by Lillyman would be timely. The Queensland representative hasn't played since damaging a bicep in a pre-season trial in February.

Lillyman has returned to full training this week, with coach Brian McClennan indicating one of the team's key go-forward players is in the frame to face a Broncos side that has swept away all before it since suffering a sole defeat to the Cowboys in round two.

While the Warriors' three-win, five-loss record won't inspire much fear in a rampant Broncos team on a six-match win streak, they should head into the match in a fairly buoyant mood after dominating much of the hard-fought Anzac Day clash with the undefeated Storm.

Whether the Warriors have fully turned the corner after an uneven start this season remains to be seen. However, the nature of that 14-32 defeat to the Storm suggests Saturday's match isn't the mismatch it might appear on paper.

Ropati's return to the troublesome fullback spot comes with young Vulcans try-machine Glen Fisiiahi out of contention with a groin strain. Fisiiahi scored two more tries for the Vulcans in the NSW Cup last week before picking up the niggle. However, having turned in a solid display against the Rabbitohs before straining a hamstring, the experienced Ropati was always likely to get the nod to replace Kevin Locke, whose comeback from a corked leg lasted just six minutes against the Storm.

"Jerome was going really well for us at fullback against South Sydney until he was forced off with his hamstring injury so it's great that he can come back into the side now Kevin is out injured," McClennan said.

Having missed three games already, Locke now faces up to another four on the sidelines with a painful sternum injury. The absence of their first-choice fullback has resulted in a revolving door scenario for the Warriors, with four players used in the key position in just eight games. The least successful of those was Krisnan Inu, whose unhappy switch from centre to fullback against the Storm sees him relegated to a five-man bench, with Hurrell promoted to the starting left centre spot.

Hurrell played the first four games of the season largely off the bench. He demonstrated his potential with a powerful solo try against the Titans but was also targeted for heavy treatment from opposing defences, and the amount of game time he received declined before he was eventually sent down to the Vulcans.

"Konrad was impressive for us earlier in the season but we also wanted to see him getting in more minutes, which he has been able to do with the Vulcans," McClennan said.

The 20-year-old Hurrell joins impressive fellow rookie Ben Henry in the centres.

After a shaky start in the season-opener against Manly when he struggled to contain Steve Matai, Henry has formed a solid and increasingly-potent combination with Bill Tupou on the right flank.

As expected, Shaun Johnson returns at halfback after sitting out the Storm match following his Anzac test exertions. That sees Pita Godinet, who made a hugely impressive starting debut against the Storm, relegated to the bench as a potential impact player.

There is a also a positional switch, with Feleti Mateo named at loose forward and Elijah Taylor slated to start in the second row.

WARRIORS
Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday 7.30pm

Jerome Ropati
Bill Tupou
Ben Henry
Konrad Hurrell
Manu Vatuvei
James Maloney
Shaun Johnson
Russell Packer
Nathan Friend
Ben Matulino
Elijah Taylor
S Mannering (c)
Feleti Mateo

Warriors: (From) Lewis Brown, Ukuma Ta'ai, Sione Lousi, Pita Godinet, Krisnan Inu.

BRONCOS

Josh Hoffman
Gerard Beale
Jack Reed
Justin Hodges
Dale Copley
Corey Norman
Peter Wallace
Ben Hannant
A McCullough
Petero Civoniceva
Alex Glenn
S Thaiday (c)
Corey Parker

Broncos: Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett, Ben Te'o.

- NZ Herald

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