Warriors star urges rookie wing to enjoy debut
Blockbusting wing Manu Vatuvei has some simple advice for the Warriors latest try-scoring sensation Glen Fisiiahi who will make his NRL debut on Saturday night – enjoy the occasion and just concentrate on the basics.
The 20-year-old, an outstanding Under-20s talent who has shone in the pre-season trials, has won the hotly contested right wing position for the season-opener against the Parramatta Eels at Eden Park.
Vatuvei, who overcome some struggles early in his career to be regarded as arguably the most dangerous wing in the competition, sees huge potential in Fisiiahi who scored 20 tries in 26 matches for the Under-20s last year as they won the Toyota Cup.
"Fish has done very, very well for the Juniors. Moving into our team is a big step and he has handled it really well," Vatuvei said.
"He has jumped into our trial matches with the same sort of form he has showed at the 20s, so that's really exciting for him and for us. I think the pre-season has been a good experience for him."
Asked how big an adjustment Saturday night will be for Fisiiahi, Vatuvei wasn't glossing over the size of the assignment, especially with the club hoping for around 35,000 fans to turn up to Eden Park.
"It will be tough for him, but that's just how it is," Vatuvei said.
"He's got to try to enjoy it and just take everything in. Do his basics ... do what he has to do in the game and everything will come along as normal."
Fisiiahi hadn't expected his NRL debut to come so soon and won his starting jersey from the likes of new signing Krisnan Inu, first team regular Kevin Locke and fellow youngster Bill Tupou who got plenty of game time last year.
"The last few months have been unbelievable - winning the NYC premiership with the Junior Warriors, playing for the Junior Kiwis and then joining the NRL squad for the off-season," Fisiiahi said.
"It's been amazing training with all the top players we have at the club and playing with them in the trials.
"And now I've been given the chance to play my first NRL match already. I didn't expect this just yet but I'm so excited and looking forward to running out onto Eden Park on Saturday night."
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary said Fisiiahi had demanded his place with form. He scored five tries in four trials.
"There was certainly plenty of competition for the right wing, as there was for positions right across the park," he said.
"But Glen deserves this chance for this game. So far he has done everything we have expected of him."
Cleary said he had mixed emotions in naming his first-up team from a squad bristling with depth and talent. It had been a pleasure rewarding players and very hard leaving others out.
Imported backline utility Inu has missed out altogether and won't get the chance to line out against his old Eels club.
Feliti Mateo, another former Parramatta player and the star offseason signing, gets a start in the second row while Shaun Berrigan, the former Broncos utility signed from British club duties, is on the bench after Cleary decided to hand Joel Moon a start in the centres with Jerome Ropati.
While there had been much speculation around where Mateo, who can also play standoff, might fit in Cleary felt the second row was the best option for now. That allowed the Warriors to retain their tackle machine Micheal Luck in the No 13 jersey.
And it meant the promising combination of Brett Seymour and James Maloney get the starting assignment in the halves.
A few milestones beckon as the Warriors get set to start their 19th season in the NRL.
Prop Jacob Lillyman will play his 99th NRL match on a night when highly-successful Kiwi coach and former Warrior Stephen Kearney will have his first outing as an NRL head coach since being signed by the Eels.
Warriors vice-captain Luck starts his sixth season with the club just six games short of his 200th career appearance in the NRL while fullback Lance Hohaia is about to start his 10th campaign with the club, only the third player after Stacey Jones and Awen Guttenbeil to rack up 10 seasons with the Warriors.
New Zealand Warriors: 1 Lance Hohaia, 2 Glen Fisiiahi, 3 Joel Moon, 4 Jerome Ropati, 5 Manu Vatuvei, 6 James Maloney, 7 Brett Seymour, 8 Sam Rapira, 9 Aaron Heremaia, 10 Russell Packer, 11 Simon Mannering (captain), 12 Feleti Mateo, 13 Micheal Luck. Interchange: 14 Shaun Berrigan, 15 Jacob Lillyman, 16 Ben Matulino, 17 Lewis Brown, 18 Steve Rapira.