NRL: Laumape could be rested against Raiders

By Michael Brown

Ngani Laumape is in danger of missing out on a spot in the Warriors side against Canberra on Saturday night, despite being one of their best over the last three weeks. Photo / Getty Images.
Ngani Laumape is in danger of missing out on a spot in the Warriors side against Canberra on Saturday night, despite being one of their best over the last three weeks. Photo / Getty Images.

Ngani Laumape is in danger of missing out on a spot in the Warriors side against Canberra on Saturday night, despite being one of their best over the last three weeks.

The 19-year-old has made an immediate impact since making his debut against Cronulla last month and scored his first NRL try playing at centre last weekend in the 24-22 defeat to Souths. He is a strong runner, solid defender and makes good decisions, which generally puts him in the right place at the right time.

But the return of Dane Nielsen from a rib injury and coach Matt Elliott's insistence Manu Vatuvei will play on one wing means Laumape and Bill Tupou are fighting for one spot on the other wing.

It's a difficult decision - Tupou has also been in good form - but Elliott might be leaning on giving Laumape a rest. He's seen plenty of youngsters plateau in their third or fourth week as they struggle with the demands of first grade.

In the back of Elliott's mind, however, is the question of whether Laumape is the exception to the rule.

"In the past I have always taken them to that threshold where they played dead,'' he said. "Maybe I am a little bit smarter this week. I'm not sure yet.

"Ngani is such a driven kid in a really quiet way. He's had his doubters but I really feel like a first-grader for a very long time.''

Laumape could play for the under-20s side in the Holden Cup this weekend but there's a concerted move to expose a lot of their under-20s players to the NSW Cup through the Vulcans.

It's often been said the jump from the Holden Cup to NRL is a massive one - there are always exceptions like Ben Matulino, Russell Packer, Konrad Hurrell and Kevin Locke - and Elliott is prepared to sacrifice success at the under-20s level if it translates into NRL success. All three teams play a similar structure with the same play calls and terminology so players don't have to learn a new language if they are promoted.

The Warriors have been one of the strongest clubs in the under-20s competition since it was introduced in 2008, winning in 2010 and 2011.

They made a slow start to this year's competition, losing their first two games including a 46-8 hammering from the Eels, but have won their last three to sit fifth on the ladder.

"I don't know if it's a sacrifice because we are in the NRL comp,'' Elliott said. "That's what we are here to do. There's certainly a prestige in winning the 20s but I'm quite sure our fans would prefer a first-grade grand final win over a 20s win.

"It was part of my interview process, taking a club-wide approach and making sure we are developing players for first grade through all grades. The 20s comp has been fantastic, however, my memory is long enough that when I was 17 and I first started playing against men it's a bit of a spin-out. Even if they are 25, there's an intimidation factor.''

Laumape still qualifies to play under-20s but began the year with the Vulcans before earning a start with the NRL side because of the uanvailability of Vatuvei (injury) and Glen Fisiiahi (bereavement).

Prop Jacob Lillyman (ankle) and utility Elijah Taylor (ribs) are major doubts for tomorrow's game against the Raiders when the Warriors will be looking for only their second win at Canberra Stadium and their first since 1997.

- APNZ

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