NRL: Vatuvei returns to face Broncos

Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei will face the Broncos on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images
Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei will face the Broncos on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors win more often than not when Manu Vatuvei plays and they will hope that trend continues when they take on Brisbane in the first weekend of the playoffs on Saturday.

Vatuvei returns to the starting side to face the Broncos after missing two games with a wrist injury. He could have played last weekend against the Cowboys but it was decided not to risk the giant winger.

He has been a vital player for the Warriors over the past seven seasons and has an incredible record of 88 tries in 128 NRL games. He's been quieter this season with 'only' 10 in 15 games but opposition defences go out of their way to keep Vatuvei quiet, which opens up opportunities for team-mates.

Vatuvei replaces the unlucky Krisnan Inu in the starting side. Inu scored a double against the Cowboys and did little wrong in the match but the 25-year-old Vatuvei is an automatic selection on the left wing. Bill Tupou, who's had a solid season, keeps his place on the opposite flank.

Coach Ivan Cleary has made two other changes to the starting side, with Shaun Berrigan and Aaron Heremaia returning from injury.

Berrigan (hip) comes in for Lewis Brown, who drops back to a five-man interchange bench, and Heremaia replaces Alehana Mara. "With the way we performed against the Cowboys, it was a really difficult side to select but that's the way you want it to be," Cleary said. "You want to have a squad where you have plenty of depth and competition for positions and, fortunately, that has been the case for us throughout the season."

The Warriors need to win to guarantee passage to the second weekend of the playoffs. If they did that, they would earn a home game.

Under the McIntyre System, the bottom two-ranked losers of the eight teams drop out of the playoffs and the Warriors know only too well the importance of not relying on second chances after their were knocked out of the competition despite finishing the regular season fifth.

Their prospects this weekend have improved with the suspension of Broncos back-rower Sam Thaiday, who took an early guilty plea to a dangerous throw charge over a tackle on Manly prop Brent Kite.

Brisbane had contemplated contesting the charge but finally agreed the risk that Thaiday could pick up a heftier ban was too great. The Broncos, as the third qualifiers, are virtually assured of moving through to the second week of the playoffs.

His absence means Ben Te'o, who has been in good form since returning from a broken arm, moves into the backrow but fullback Josh Hoffman is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

The Warriors go into the match in good form, having won seven of their last nine matches. One of their two defeats was a narrow 21-20 loss to the Broncos a month ago but they went away from that match believing they could win in Brisbane. The Warriors have historically done well against the Broncos and Suncorp Stadium is not a place they fear.

"It's almost second-best to a home game so we're looking forward to going up there and all the boys are excited about having a good crack against Brisbane," captain Simon Mannering said.

But they will have to deal with the Darren Lockyer factor, with the Broncos skipper due to retire at the end of the season.

"You can't really control what happens there so we just to have to prepare as well as we can for a very good Brisbane side that will be led around well by Darren Lockyer," Mannering said. "He's a great player for their side and he'll definitely being doing his bit to playing a key role in his final series."

Warriors side:

1 Kevin Locke
2 Bill Tupou
3 Joel Moon
4 Shaun Berrigan
5 Manu Vatuvei
6 James Maloney
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Sam Rapira
9 Aaron Heremaia
10 Jacob Lillyman
11 Feleti Mateo
12 Simon Mannering (c)
13 Micheal Luck

Interchange:
Lewis Brown
Lance Hohaia
Ben Matulino
Russell Packer
Ukuma Ta'ai

- APNZ

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