Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei will be allowed to ease his way back into the NRL after taking medical leave following the club’s disciplinary crisis.
Coach Andrew McFadden and captain Ryan Hoffman both say there will be no pressure on Vatuvei to return quickly, with the 30-year-old having declared himself not mentally ready to play in Saturday’s game against Penrith in Christchurch.
Forwards Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson have been recalled but that isn’t the case for the other four players, dropped two weeks ago for their team protocol breach – Vatuvei, Konrad Hurrell, Sam Lisone and Albert Vete.
Vatuvei was notably affected by the fallout.
He posted a cryptic message to his critics on social media before taking a week’s medical leave.
He returned to training this week but, in a remorseful video statement on the club’s website on Wednesday, admitted he was struggling mentally.
McFadden says he will speak to the club’s record tryscorer next week to gauge his availability.
“Manu’s a week-by-week case. There’s no doubt it was a tough couple of weeks for him,” McFadden said.
“He’s a legend of our club and he’s obviously made a mistake and it’s hurt him.”
Hoffman said the 12-season stalwart appeared fine in training but it was obvious he didn’t want to let the team down.
“He knows when he’ll be right to play football again – it’s not something you want to rush,” he said.
“When he’s right and when everyone’s in agreement that Manu’s going to come back, I’m sure he’s going to come back and play like the fantastic player that he is.”
Hoffman expects Matulino and Thompson to be standout figures on Saturday as they have plenty to prove to their teammates and supporters.
He says the Warriors will need to be on-song as a whole against a Panthers side he rates as young and enthusiastic.
“Their results haven’t shown just how confident they are playing.”
Hoffman hailed Panthers second-row counterpart Bryce Cartwright as one of the NRL’s form players, while captain Matt Moylan is a lethal threat at fullback.