NRL: Fullbacks falling over at Warriors

By Michael Brown

Kevin Locke will play for the Vulcans this weekend to test out his injuries.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Kevin Locke will play for the Vulcans this weekend to test out his injuries. Photo / Greg Bowker

It hasn't exactly been the curse of the No 1 jersey this season but the Warriors haven't had a good run at fullback either.

Jerome Ropati, Kevin Locke and Glen Fisiiahi have all had their issues with injury this term, with Ropati suffering the most serious of these with a season-ending knee injury.

Locke started the season as first-choice fullback but missed three games after picking up a corked thigh against Gold Coast in round three. He came back against Melbourne only to suffer a painful sternum injury six minutes into the game and hasn't been sighted since.

Krisnan Inu was shifted back to fullback for the remainder of that game but made a couple of bad errors that signalled the end of his Warriors career and five-eighths James Maloney even had a spell there when Ropati dislocated his knee cap against the Roosters.

"I think it's that one jersey," Locke offered. "It just hasn't been going our way.

There have been a lot of injuries in that one jersey. Hopefully we've seen the last one."

Coach Brian McClennan will hope so as well. He hasn't had the luxury of picking a player there for any more than three consecutive games in one of the most crucial positions on the park. Contrast that to the Storm, who the Warriors host at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday, and the incomparable Billy Slater has been a virtual constant at fullback for many seasons.

This weekend Fisiiahi will be handed the No 1 jersey to face Melbourne for what will be his fourth game of the season and only eighth of his career.

He is a player of considerable talent - he has blinding pace and earlier this season he scored six tries in one match for the Vulcans - but is still finding his way at NRL level.

Locke will play for the Vulcans this weekend to test out his injuries. The sternum is still troubling him but it is the corked thigh that is giving him the most grief and he now has bone growing into his muscle.

"It doesn't sound pleasant and it isn't as well," he said. "It's quite painful."

He feels ready to play, however, and McClennan wants to see him last 80 minutes before considering him for the first-grade side.

Fisiiahi wants to make it as hard as possible for Locke to unseat him, especially as he missed out on his chance to push Locke in pre-season when he suffered a head knock.

The 21-year-old is feeling more comfortable in first grade with each week and is desperate to taste more this season. He is even keen to play more on the wing in the hope of getting more game time.

"I know what to expect now - the speed of the game, the physicality," he said. "Coming into the squad last year it was all new to me and it was a huge step up from the under-20s. Right now I'm trying to get some consistency in my game.

"Wing is one position I would like to explore a bit more because, coming through the system, I haven't hade many chances there. I would like to get time there to get a feel for it because defensively it's a tough job. But I know I need to work on a lot of things and I'm doing that."

That's as long as another injury doesn't strike.


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