Warriors wing tipped to make presence felt in latest comeback. Liam Napier reports.
Only in sport can individuals be friends one minute, foes the next.
Warriors wing Manu Vatuvei is about to experience that contrast.
Back sooner than expected after having a sizeable piece of cartilage removed from his right knee, Vatuvei will mark Kiwis room-mate and Broncos finisher Gerard Beale as the Warriors attempt to exorcise their Brisbane NRL demons tonight.
After his latest stint on the sidelines, Vatuvei admits injuries have dented his confidence, but Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman expects Beale to cop the brunt of those frustrations.
"Seeing the way blokes try and tackle Manu, you see the look on their faces when he's full steam, they don't look pleased. He'll be dead keen to rip in," Lillyman warned Beale.
Frequent knee issues, hamstring problems, a broken arm and having bone removed from his wrist have taken a mental toll on the Warriors' record tryscorer, who brings an added swagger to his team-mates' confidence.
"It's always frustrating to get injured. I'm hoping it's the last time for a while. Injuries run through my head every time I play," Vatuvei said. "When I'm running and feel something in my leg it starts playing with my mind. But I can't let it get to me otherwise it will affect my performance."
In April, Vatuvei roomed with Dragons-bound Beale before the Anzac test in Auckland, but at Suncorp Stadium tonight their shared heritage will be forgotten.
"Beale was my room-mate for the Anzac test. I've been watching him," Vatuvei said of the four-test Kiwi, who has inked a three-year deal with St George. "He's a great kid with a lot of talent. I've got to do my best to try and stop him and try to run over him.
"He's got a great combination with [Justin] Hodges."
During Vatuvei's three-game absence, the Warriors lost to the Sharks and dished out back-to-back beltings to the Titans and the Origin-depleted Cowboys – missing Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Brent Tate and James Tamou.
With the representative disruptions over, the Warriors need to claim the Queensland sweep to prove they are capable of beating full-strength opposition to silence the sceptics and keep their traditional late-season surge rolling.
It could be a turning point. But this is no baby Broncos.
"It's a disadvantage for them but an opportunity for us to take and we did that," Warriors offload king Feleti Mateo said of the under-strength Cowboys. "Now all the breaks are done we can really get some momentum and make a run into the finals."
Memories of their last match in Brisbane, where the Warriors have only won two from seven, are also fresh in the minds. In last year's qualifying final, the Broncos handed the Warriors a 40-10 lesson which, ironically, instigated their grand final run.
"We've beaten them once this year but we were touched up over there last year," Mateo said.
Broncos: Josh Hoffman, Gerard Beale, Alex Glenn, Justin Hodges, Dale Copley, Corey Norman, Peter Wallace, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Petero Civoniceva, Matt Gillett, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Ben Hunt, Ben Teo, Ben Hannant, Mitchell Dodds, Dunamis Lui (one to be omitted).
Warriors: Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Lewis Brown, Manu Vatuvei, James Maloney, Shaun Johnson, Russell Packer, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (capt), Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Omar Slaimankhel, Sione Lousi, Jacob Lillyman, Steve Rapira, Sebastine Ikahihifo (one to be omitted). Referees: Ben Cummins, Chris James.
- © Fairfax NZ News