You’ve come here for a preview of Saturday’s game, and I won’t keep you long. Let me sum things up for you in two words:
Yeah, yeah, bold statements about two points in the bag and the Happiest Place on Earth didn’t go so well earlier this season, but this week is different. The Warriors team of this past month is different.
The Titans have been punching above their weight so far in 2016, but have been hit hard in recent times by the injury bug, with our old friend Nathan and young star Ashley Taylor the latest players to enter the casualty ward. They’ll fight hard, but on paper they simply don’t have the troops.
In comparison, the men from Mt Smart have finally found their mojo, proving last week against the Sharks that they can foot it with the best in the NRL. Tui Lolohea returns, much to the delight of most fans, joining a fairly settled lineup looking to notch their eighth win of the season and keep pace in the hunt for the playoffs. If the Warriors reproduce the effort they’ve shown throughout the last month, there’s a good chance Shaun Johnson might get some much needed rest right around the 60-minute mark.
But the main storyline for Saturday’s fixture is another milestone in the career of Simon Mannering. The praise has quite rightly been flowing for the former captain as he prepares to play his 250th game in the NRL, all as a Warrior. While he may not go down as the flashiest or the most exciting player to ever grace Mt Smart Stadium, there is absolutely no doubt he is a living legend of this club. Is there anyone who has put their body on the line more for the Warriors jersey? Anyone who embodies the true Warrior spirit more than Mannering?
Week after week fans cry out for effort, passion, heart, desire. We want to see players who care as much as we do, who leave every ounce of their being out on the field. Mannering has delivered on those requests game after game after game after game, ever since his debut in 2005. He might be well-respected now, but even still it feels like we may not truly appreciate his value to the club until he is gone.
If you are in Auckland, get along to the match. Gates open at 12:30pm. Make a day of it. You might even get to see Jono Wright run out in the NSW Cup. If you can’t make it to Mt Smart, tune in on TV or listen on the radio and cheer an extra loud ‘Go Simon!’ every time he is on screen or you hear his name. He is the Ultimate Warrior and he deserves to be honoured in front of all who reside within Warrior Nation.
New Zealand Warriors v Gold Coast Titans, Mount Smart Stadium, Saturday 2 July 2016
Gates Open: 12:30pm (NZ time)
NYC Kick-off: 12:40pm
NSW Cup Kick-off: 2:40pm
NRL Kick-off: 5pm
Can the Warriors dish up something as tasty as this was?
Warriors: 1 David Fusitu’a 2 Tuimoala Lolohea, 3 Blake Ayshford, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Thomas Leuluai, 7 Shaun Johnson, 8 Jacob Lillyman, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Albert Vete, 11 Bodene Thompson, 12 Ryan Hoffman (c), 13 Simon Mannering. Interchange: 14 Nathaniel Roache, 15 Sam Lisone, 16 Ben Matulino, 17 Charlie Gubb
Titans: 1 William Zillman (c) 2 Anthony Don 3 Josh Hoffman 4 Karl Lawton 5 Nene Macdonald 6 Tyrone Roberts 7 Cameron Cullen 8 Luke Douglas 9 Nathan Peats 10 Ryan James 11 Zeb Taia 12 Chris McQueen 13 Greg Bird. Interchange: 14 Lachlan Burr, 15 Ryan Simpkins 16 Agnatius Paasi 17 Leivaha Pulu