David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Backline changes for New Zealand Warriors

Tuimoala Lolohea of the Warriors in action. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Tuimoala Lolohea of the Warriors in action. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Tui Lolohea has earned an NRL recall and Solomone Kata returns from injury as the Warriors fight to keep their playoff hopes alive in Sunday's game against Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium.

Lolohea will line up on the right wing in place of Ken Maumalo who has been ruled out after suffering a hamstring injury during the first half of Saturday's 34-6 defeat to North Queensland in Townsville.

The versatile 21-year-old returns to the side after he was dropped to reserve grade following a forgettable outing at fullback in the Warriors embarrassing home defeat to South Sydney in round 23.

Lolohea scored a try while playing at five-eighth in the Warriors 38-30 Intrust Super Premiership loss to Mounties on Saturday, but coach Andrew McFadden has opted to keep the composed and defensively strong David Fusitu'a in the No1 jersey.

Kata was a late scratching from the Cowboys game after failing to recover from a hamstring strain suffered against the Rabbitohs, but the 21-year-old Tongan international returns to left centre in place of Matt Allwood.

"Having Sol back is a huge plus for us," said Warriors assistant coach Andrew Webster.

"He's been outstanding all season so it's great having him back to face the Tigers.

"It's disappointing losing Ken because he's been doing a great job for us but we all know what Tui can do when he's on his game."

For the second week in a row, rookie hooker Nathaniel Roache will again start in the number nine jersey and make his 10th appearance of the season, as first-choice rake Issac Luke continues his recovery following arthroscopic knee surgery a fortnight ago.

Exciting playmaker Ata Hingano will again come off the interchange bench after a solid performance on debut against last year's premiers.

The 19-year-old Junior Kiwis halfback was thrust into the action early on following Maumalo's departure and slotted in comfortably at five-eighth beside Warriors chief playmaker Shaun Johnson and set up the side's only try of the night for captain Ryan Hoffman.

Prop James Gavet retains his spot on the interchange bench alongside fellow front-rowers Sam Lisone and Ben Matulino while 20-year-old forward Bunty Afoa is again listed as 18th man.

The backline changes boost the ninth-placed Warriors attacking power as they look to bounce back from consecutive losses and stay in contention for their first finals appearance since 2011.

The ninth-placed Warriors and 10th-ranked Wests Tigers are locked together on 24 competition points and need to win both their remaining games while also requiring the Gold Coast (eighth on 27 points) to lose their remaining matches to have any hope of clinching a top eight berth.

Both sides will know their finals fate on Saturday evening following the Titans crucial game against Penrith at Robina, and will be hoping the Panthers extend their three-match winning run to keep their respective campaigns alive.

Should the home side prevail in that contest, the Warriors will have only pride to play for in front of their home fans in what will certainly be their last two outings of the season.

"We've got to wait on a few other results as well but all we can worry about is winning two games," said Webster.

"If we do that we're confident we're going to be in the playoffs."

Warriors v Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday, 4pm

Warriors: 1. David Fusitu'a, 2. Tui Lolohea, 3. Blake Ayshford, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. Manu Vatuvei, 6. Thomas Leuluai, 7. Shaun Johnson, 8. Jacob Lillyman, 9. Nathaniel Roache, 10. Albert Vete, 11. Bodene Thompson, 12. Ryan Hoffman (c), 13. Simon Mannering.

Interchange: 14. Ata Hingano, 15. Sam Lisone, 16. Ben Matulino, 17. James Gavet, 18. Bunty Afoa.

- NZ Herald

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