Warriors' Thomas Leuluai back in the game

14:16, Mar 26 2014
Thomas Leuluai
Options: The Warriors want to keep Thomas Leuluai, but it could be his English girlfriend’s call.

Experienced Warriors utility Thomas Leuluai will make his first appearance of the year in Saturday's fourth-round NRL game against Wests Tigers at the Cake Tin in Wellington.

After playing every minute of the club's 24 matches last season, the 28-year-old veteran has been sidelined since picking up a groin injury during the Kiwis' 2013 Rugby League World Cup campaign last year.

He was close to making a return last week, but has now been fully cleared to make his comeback at a ground where he made his NRL debut as a 17-year-old against the Bulldogs in 2003.

He has been named on the interchange bench alongside props Jacob Lillyman and Suaia Matagi and centre Konrad Hurrell, who was used predominantly as a back rower in Saturday night's win against North Queensland.

The starting lineup named is unchanged from the one used in the courageous 20-16 win over the Cowboys.
Back rower Feleti Mateo finished the game in Townsville, but was ruled out with a knee complaint, ending a run of 79 consecutive appearances since joining the Warriors in 2011.

"We were hoping Feleti would be clear to play but his knee isn't quite right," Warriors head coach Matt Elliott said.

"That's disappointing but, on the other hand, it's great having Thomas back.

"He was a really important part of our spine last year. He's obviously very handy in the halves and also gives us cover at hooker.

"We probably made a mature decision not to play him last week. He's a fairly useful bench player."

While Leuluai's return is significant the match also provides two notable individual milestones with captain Simon Mannering leading the side for a club record 92nd time and former Cronulla and Melbourne centre Dane Nielsen making his 100th NRL appearance.

Mannering equalled Steve Price's record of 91 games as captain last weekend. He is not only just eight appearances away from 100 games in charge, but also just eight short of becoming only the second player to rack up 200 NRL games for the club (after Stacey Jones, who made 261 appearances).

"Simon commands so much respect from everyone in the club," Elliott said.

"He's such a high-quality player and leader as well as being a fine person." Mannering, in his fifth season as captain and his 10th as an NRL player, will achieve his record in a city which was briefly home for him before he moved to Auckland after signing with the Warriors.

Returning home for his second outing as a Warrior at the Cake Tin will be the only genuine Wellington product in the side, prop Ben Matulino, who was born and raised in Lower Hutt. He'll be making his 136th NRL appearance.

Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Jayson Bukuya, Simon Mannering (c), Sione Lousi. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Suaia Matagi, Konrad Hurrell, Thomas Leuluai.