NRL: Warriors welcome back Matulino for clash with Eels

Ben Matulino is back for the Warriors this weekend. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Matulino is back for the Warriors this weekend. Photo / Getty Images

Experienced forward Ben Matulino will make his return from injury for the Warriors' clash against the Parramatta Eels at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.

The round 18 match will be the 25-year-old's 144th career outing after missing the last two victories against Brisbane (19-10) and Penrith (30-20) following minor knee surgery.

The game's "Back in Black" theme marks the Warriors' return to their official black strip, which they have previously worn this year only in their "home" game against Wests Tigers in Wellington and away against St George Illawarra.

Matulino, whose last appearance was in the second row against South Sydney in Perth on June 7, has been named on the bench. The only change to the starting line-up sees prop Suaia Matagi replacing veteran Sam Rapira (back injury).

"Ben's return is right on schedule," said Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden.

"He had some cartilage trouble [in his right knee] but it's been sorted and he's ready to go again this week having missed just the two games."

Matulino's return leaves him on target to make his 150th appearance this year; he would be the 10th to achieve the feat for the club.

Reaching the 50-game milestone on Saturday night is 22-year-old centre Konrad Hurrell, who has 33 tries so far. He has scored four tries in the club's three games at Mt Smart so far this season.

With a double against Penrith, Hurrell has eight in 12 games this season, two behind Manu Vatuvei. Vatuvei - with 128 career tries - goes into Saturday's game having scored 10 tries or more in each of the past nine NRL seasons; he is only the second player in the competition's history to achieve the feat behind North Sydney and Manly winger Ken Irvine, who scored a record 212 tries.

Vatuvei plays his 186th NRL match on Saturday, moving into outright fourth on the club's list of all-time appearances; only Stacey Jones (261), Simon Mannering (203) and Logan Swann (195) are ahead of the winger.

The Warriors begin the final nine-game phase of their regular season campaign sitting inside the NRL's top eight on 20 points, only four points behind the top three sides: Penrith, Manly and Canterbury-Bankstown.

The competition is the most congested it has been at this stage of the season since the Warriors made their debut in 1995. Only four points separate the top 10 sides and 12 points cover the entire field.

Warriors team: Sam Tomkins, David Fusitu'a, Konrad Hurrell, Dane Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Suaia Matagi, Jayson Bukuya, S. Mannering (c), Sebastine Ikahihifo Interchange: Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Ben Henry, Charlie Gubb, Raymond Faitala-Mariner.

Eels team: Chris Sandow, Semi Radradra, Ryan Morgan, Willie Tonga (c), Vai Toutai, Corey Norman, Luke Kelly, Darcy Lussick, Isaac De Gois, Junior Paulo, David Gower, Pauli Pauli, Joseph Paulo Interchange: Fuifui Moimoi, Mitch Allgood, Peni Terepo, Ken Sio.

- NZ Herald

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