Jones set to take on defending premiers

Yahoo!Xtra Sport, Yahoo!Xtra Sport March 17, 2009, 12:00 pm

Veteran halfback Stacey Jones is set to play his first NRL match in more than three and a half years when the Vodafone Warriors face defending premiers the Manly Sea Eagles in a second-round contest at Brookvale Oval in Sydney on Sunday.

A niggling calf injury kept Jones (32) out of the club's season-opening 26-18 victory over Parramatta but, with interchange utility Lance Hohaia injured, he was today named on the bench for what will be his 239th first-grade appearance.

Also brought into the side are two new faces joining Jones on the interchange bench.

Former Newcastle prop Jesse Royal (28), a late acquisition for the 2009 season, will become Warrior No 148 and Auckland Vulcans and Mount Albert back rower Ukuma Ta'ai (22) will be No 149 when he takes the field for his NRL debut.

While Jones replaces Hohaia, sidelined for three to six weeks with knee ligament damage, Ta'ai effectively comes in for injured second rower Ben Matulino (out for two to three weeks with an ankle injury).

Royal, a 29-game NRL player with the Knights in 2007-08, replaces Leeson Ah Mau (19), who, after making his NRL debut last week, will turn out for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in their NYC encounter with the Sea Eagles.

The only change to the starting line-up is Jacob Lillyman coming into the second row for Matulino. Lillyman (25) played a straight stint of 61 minutes last Saturday night in his first NRL match since June last year.

While disappointed to lose Hohaia and Matulino with injuries, Warriors coach Ivan Cleary was encouraged by the depth in this year's squad to cover their absences.

"We said from the outset that this season is very much about working with a squad," he said.

"It's disappointing to be without Lance and Ben. They're both important players in our mix but it's great to be able to bring in players like Stacey, Jesse and Ukuma. It's an early test of our depth."

But Cleary said the Warriors faced arguably their most difficult assignment in any season taking on Manly and especially at Brookvale Oval.

"What happened to Manly against the Bulldogs last week is of little significance to us," he said.

"They had a tough week leading up to that game but this week they're back home in front of their own people. That'll make a huge difference to them.

"The truth is we haven't been very good against them at all for some time.

"They beat us four times last year, once in a trial and three times during the season. Our last visit to Brookvale last year was one of the most disappointing in our club's history. They really towelled us up."

That clash finished up 52-6 to Manly, the heaviest loss in the Warriors' history. They also lost at Brookvale in 2007.

While Ta'ai and Royal will play for the Warriors for the first time on Sunday, halfback Nathan Fien will edge closer to becoming the 13th player to appear in 100 NRL matches for the club.

This will be his 98th outing and, with the injured Evarn Tuimavave locked on 99, Fien is likely to reach three figures first; he's also nearing his 200-game career milestone with what will be his 189th game.

The Warriors side is:
Wade McKinnon, Denan Kemp, Brent Tate, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Joel Moon, Nathan Fien, Sam Rapira, Ian Henderson, Steve Price (c), Simon Mannering, Jacob Lillyman, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Stacey Jones, Russell Pack, Jesse Royal, Ukuma Ta'ai. 18th man: Aaron Heremaia

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