Warriors young gun Tui Lolohea has been reinstated to the starting line-up and at fullback for Saturday’s NRL home match against Penrith.
The 21-year-old has started from the pine in three of his side’s past four games, playing 32 minutes in last week’s golden-point loss to the Raiders in Canberra.
He reclaims his position at No.1 from David Fusitu’a, who moves to the centres in place of Blake Ayshford.
Warriors assistant coach Andrew Webster says the rising NRL star had made a positive impression in his substitute appearance in Canberra.
“He can play anywhere in the backline at a really high level and he’s certainly had plenty of experience at fullback in his short time in the NRL,” Webster said.
“I think he’s going to be great for us.”
Lolohea, who is expected to replace the departing Thomas Leuluai at five-eighth next season, said last week that speculation linking him with a move away was false.
He said he wanted to spend the rest of his career at Mt Smart Stadium.
“I see this as my home,” he said.
In one other change, Ben Matulino will start in the front row alongside Queensland forward Jacob Lillyman.
James Gavet drops to the bench.
Saturday’s match marks the Warriors’ first on New Zealand soil for four matches, following the bye and consecutive golden-point losses to Manly in Perth and the Raiders.
The Panthers came out victorious in their last encounter with the Warriors, winning 30-18 in their nominally “home” match in Christchurch.
The two sides have won eight matches apiece in their head-to-head at Mt Smart, while the Panthers have are ahead 21-15 overall, with one draw.
Warriors: Tuimoala Lolohea, Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman (capt), Simon Mannering. Res: Jazz Tevaga, Sam Lisone, James Gavet, Blake Ayshford.