League: Young winger gets his finals chance

By Steve Deane

Omar Slaimankhel. Photo / Dean Purcell
Omar Slaimankhel. Photo / Dean Purcell

Afghan refugee Omar Slaimankhel replaces ineligible wing Bill Tupou in the only change to the Junior Warriors side for Friday night's preliminary final match against the Bulldogs in Brisbane.

Tupou made 12 first-grade and 12 NYC appearances this year, making him eligible for the NYC finals when the first-grade side was still alive. He played in the week one victory over the Sea Eagles, but became ineligible when the NRL side was eliminated.

His replacement, 18-year-old Slaimankhel, has made an impressive start to his career at the junior level after switching to league from rugby union this season. Signed after playing for Auckland Grammar School's 1st XV and appearing in provincial age-group sides, he has scored 10 tries in 10 games, including a four-try haul in the round-24 clash against Manly.

"The change was forced on us but every time he has played for us Omar has played very well," coach John Ackland said.

Other than the Slaimankhel-for-Tupou swap, Ackland has been able to call on all of the key players who helped the side claim second spot in the regular season behind South Sydney.

Both the Rabbitohs and Warriors won in week one to advance directly to the preliminary finals. The winners of this weekend's matches contest the final.

Ackland has four of the competition's most experienced players at his disposal. Hookers Elijah Taylor and Nafe Seluini, in their third and final seasons in the NYC, made their 50th appearances in the playoff win against Manly. Knights-bound centre Siuatonga Likiliki, who was named in the NYC Team of the Year for the second season running, will play his 49th match, while halfback Shaun Johnson plays his 44th and captain Ben Henry his 41st. Johnson is the team's leading points-scorer with 146, while Likiliki (18), fullback Glen Fisiiahi (17) and winger Elijah Niko (14) all feature among the leading try-scorers.

After losing three of their first four matches this season, the Junior Warriors have won 17 of their last 21 to move within a game of the final.

Hooker Nafe Seluini was named Warriors NYC player of the year last night. The young player of the year is five-eighth Carlos Tuimavave and clubman of the year Charlie Gubb.

JNR WARRIORS v JNR BULLDOGS

NYC preliminary final, Suncorp Stadium, Friday 7.15pm

1 Glen Fisiiahi
2 Omar Slaimankhel
3 Sosaia Feki
4 Siuatonga Likiliki
5 Elijah Niko
6 Carlos Tuimavave
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Neccrom Areaiiti
9 Elijah Taylor
10 Mark Ioane
11 Matt Robinson
12 Ben Henry (c)
13 Sebastine Ikahihifo

Interchange: Nafe Seluini, Charlie Gubb, Sam Lousi, Daniel Palavi, Henry Chan-Ting

- NZ Herald

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