Sam Rapira returns to Warriors, Locke's out
The Warriors are set to welcome star prop Sam Rapira back from injury in time for Friday's clash against the Wests Tigers in Sydney but will once again be without fullback Kevin Locke.
Locke was initially expected to make his return from a three-week stint on the sidelines with a sternum complaint but failed to prove his fitness during training yesterday.
Former under-20s star Glen Fisiiahi will line up in his place with the other option at fullback, Jerome Ropati, likely to be out for up to eight weeks with a knee complaint.
"It's wise to give him [Locke] another week off ... but it's not an issue because we've got Glen Fisiiahi in. What a luxury to have at the club that we've got that ability to be able to call on someone as talented as Glen Fisiiahi," Warriors coach Brian McClennan said.
While the news was grim yesterday for both Locke and Ropati, it's a different story for 13-test Kiwi Rapira, who will return for just his fifth game of the season after shoulder and ankle injuries.
His inclusion in the 17-man squad, coupled with the presence of Jacob Lillyman – just two matches into his return from a pre-season bicep injury – means the Warriors, for the first time this year, will line up with all four props from their 2011 grand final run – Rapira, Lillyman, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino.
"I'm pretty excited. The boys are going well so hopefully I just need to step up on the back of their good performances and make an impact," Rapira said.
"Over the last few years, I've been quite lucky [with injuries].
"It's been hard this year but you've just got to deal with it because it comes with the sport.
"I've just got to chip away at it and hopefully this is the end of it."
Rapira's return means Tongan international Ukuma Ta'ai will be forced to ply his trade for the Auckland Vulcans against Canterbury Bankstown in the New South Wales Cup on Saturday.
During the latter stages of last weekend's win over the Roosters, Ta'ai, who has played in all 10 games so far this season, was a physically imposing presence but also gave away the penalty that led to Anthony Minichiello's late try.
McClennan said dropping the bruising forward for Rapira had been a tough decision but, in the same breath, he stressed the importance of his players not losing their heads under pressure or getting "too emotional".
"It's difficult because Ukuma's made a really good contribution for us," he said.
"We just felt that Sammy Rapira brings that experience into what will be a cauldron out at Leichhardt Oval this Friday. We thought we needed that experience in the middle.
"I do love it [aggression].
"But we did give away a penalty with that aggression and you've got to keep your emotions in check.
"They ended up getting a penalty and we lost our control a bit in that set late in the match and they ended up scoring a try and getting within four points of us.
"As a club and playing in the NRL, we've got to have better emotional control and we've spoken about that as a group. If you want to win a premiership, you can't go getting too emotional."
The Tigers will be without inspirational captain Robbie Farah, who was named in the New South Wales Origin team on Sunday night.
It makes them a less damaging prospect but McClennan, true to form, had a different view.
"They've played without him before and done well. They still looked pretty threatening [but] it probably means Benji [Marshall] will step up and get the ball a little bit more," McClennan said.
NZ Warriors: Glen Fisiiahi, Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, James Maloney, Shaun Johnson, Russell Packer, Alehana Mara, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor, Simon Mannering (c), Feleti Mateo. Interchange: Lewis Brown, Sam Rapira, Sione Lousi, Jacob Lillyman, Pita Godinet (one to be omitted).