NRL: Leuluai return good for Warriors, Kiwis

By Michael Brown

Classy utility scheduled to come off the bench against Tigers.

The Warriors will welcome Thomas Leuluai back for their clash with the Wests Tigers in Wellington on Saturday afternoon. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Warriors will welcome Thomas Leuluai back for their clash with the Wests Tigers in Wellington on Saturday afternoon. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Thomas Leuluai's long-awaited return to the playing field is not only a fillip for the Warriors but also the Kiwis as they eye the upcoming Anzac test in Sydney.

Leuluai was yesterday named in the Warriors side to play the Wests Tigers in Wellington on Saturday and is expected to see some time off the interchange bench.

It will be his first game since a brief appearance at last year's World Cup, when he lasted only three minutes against Papua New Guinea before aggravating the groin injury he sustained in one of the Kiwis' first training sessions ahead of the tournament.

Leuluai played every minute of every game last season and the Warriors have missed his strong defence, organisation and control in their first three games.

He was terrific in the second half of 2013 after readjusting to the NRL after a long stint in Britain and was one of their most consistent players.

It's hoped he will rediscover his combination with fullback Sam Tomkins, who has, so far, had a quiet start to his Warriors career. The pair were teammates at Wigan and Leuluai was one of the major reasons Tomkins signed with the Mt Smart-based outfit.

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney will keep a close eye on Leuluai's progress because the 28-year-old is needed for the Anzac test in Sydney on May 2 following news hooker Issac Luke could be sidelined for up to 10 weeks after injuring his shoulder late in the Rabbitohs' defeat to the Wests Tigers last Friday.

Luke is arguably the most important player to the Kiwis and Leuluai, who has played plenty of times at dummy-half in his career, was seen as his backup leading into the World Cup.

Leuluai was close to a return for last week's important 20-16 win over the Cowboys but was held back - he had his first full contact session last week.

NRL Highlights: Cowboys 16 Warriors 20
"We need to get a full week's preparation into him," coach Matt Elliott said. "We made a mature decision around that [last week] and Tommy is raring to go.

"He was a really important part of our spine last year. He's obviously very handy in the halves and also gives us cover at hooker. He's a fairly handy player to have on the bench."

Konrad Hurrell will also start on the bench, as he did against the Cowboys, and is likely to be used in a similar role. Hurrell, a centre, played mainly as a back-rower and scored a try and made a handful of damaging runs in his short stints on the field.

Feleti Mateo is out with a knee injury, breaking a run of 79 consecutive games for the Warriors that began when he joined the club in 2011.

Saturday's match will mark the 92nd time Simon Mannering has captained the Warriors, breaking the previous record of 91 games set by Steve Price, and 100th NRL appearance for centre Dane Nielsen.

Mannering, who is into his fifth season as captain and 10th in the NRL, is also only eight games short of becoming just the second Warriors player behind Stacey Jones to play 200 games for the club - Jones made 261 appearances.

The Wests Tigers come into the match on a high, after beating the Rabbitohs 25-16.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 01 Nov 2014 17:45:00 Processing Time: 433ms