Vatuvei, Tomkins boost Warriors in NRL

Manu Vatuvei and Sam Tomkins return from injury to boost the Warriors ahead of their 12th round NRL clash against the Newcastle Knights at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.

Tomkins is set for just his third outing of the season after being sidelined with a knee injury since the third-round 29-16 win over Parramatta on March 21.

Vatuvei is poised to play his 204th NRL game after missing the 17-13 golden point victory over the Eels with a sternum injury two weeks ago.

With Tomkins back, Tuimoala Lolohea – who started the last seven games at fullback – will line up in the centres on the right edge, while 207-game veteran Nathan Friend starts at hooker.

Friend comes in for the luckless Thomas Leuluai, out for the season after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Eels.

Siliva Havili replaces Friend on the bench, coming in for his first NRL appearance of the year, while Sebastine Ikahihifo is called in for his second game after previously being used against Melbourne last month.

Warriors assistant coach Tony Iro says Lolohea had done an excellent job at the back, but there was every confidence he’d fit in well at centre.

“Losing Tommy for the season is a massive setback, but it gives both Friendy and Siliva an opportunity.

“While we know Friendy can play 80 minutes for us, Siliva gives us something a bit different.”

It will be the Warriors’ first home match since their eighth-round 32-28 loss to the Gold Coast Titans on Anzac Day.

Friend’s inclusion means the Warriors will field a changed starting forward pack for the first time in 10 games.

Named to start again are Queensland front rower Jacob Lillyman and New South Wales second rower Ryan Hoffman, who will square off against each other in Wednesday’s opening battle in the 2015 State of Origin series.

Coming off their first bye, the Warriors lie seventh on the ladder with 12 points after fives win and five losses in their first 10 games, while Newcastle are 12th on 10 points after an 18-31 loss to Brisbane on Monday.

Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Jonathan Wright, Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering (captain). Interchange: Siliva Havili, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete.

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