Second rower Ben Henry will again lead the Vodafone Junior Warriors when they defend the NYC premiership title they won last year.
Henry, about to start his third and final season in the competition, has been part of the club’s NRL squad throughout the off-season and played in the Vodafone Warriors’ first three NRL trials against Newcastle, Parramatta and Burleigh last month.
The 19-year-old led the Vodafone Junior Warriors in their 2010 campaign only to suffer a major blow when injury prevented him playing alongside his team-mates as they beat South Sydney in the grand final to clinch the club’s first premiership. He’ll start the season needing only nine more appearances to reach the 50-game mark in the NYC.
After a programme of six trials during February, Vodafone Junior Warriors coach John Ackland has named a 35-man squad for the 2011 season.
While age has eliminated some of 2010’s key performers from this year’s squad, the Vodafone Junior Warriors are still able to call on 12 players with at least some NYC experience. Apart from Henry, other 2010 regulars are hooker Henry Chan-Ting, centre Sosaia Feki, winger Omar Slaimankhel, standoff Carlos Tuimavave, second rower Sam Lousi and loose forward Sebastine Ikahihifo. Tuimavave, Lousi and Ikahihifo all played for the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos last year.
Other players with NYC experience are centre James TePou, props Lance Su’a-Poe and Sirovai Makatoa and back rowers Donald Tony and John Palavi.
Among the newcomers are another three who have switched from rugby union. Outside back Konrad Hurrell is a former Auckland Grammar School First XV representative (Slaimankhel, a first-year rugby league player last season, was one of his Grammar team-mates), forward Siulongua Fotofili made the New Zealand Secondary Schools union team out of Wesley College last year and winger-fullback DJ Collier was in the Chiefs’ development system.
Back rower Malakai Houma is the younger brother of New Zealand’s 2010 Resident Player of the Year Saulala Houma, who has just signed a fulltime NRL contract with the Vodafone Warriors while Toka Likiliki’s older brother Siuatonga is now with Newcastle’s NRL squad after playing 50 NYC games for the Vodafone Junior Warriors from 2008-10. Second year NYC player Donald Tony also has family links with the club; his brother Motu played 55 NRL games for the Vodafone Warriors from 2001-03.
The Vodafone Junior Warriors begin their season against Parramatta in the early game (5.15pm kick-off) on the ‘Battle of Eden’ bill at Eden Park next Saturday (March 12).
The full squad named this week is: Stephen Shennan, Omar Slaimankhel, Vili Lolohea, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Konrad Hurrell, Sosaia Feki, James TePou, Carlos Tuimavave, Jordan Meads, Siliva Havili, Henry Chan-Ting, Ben Henry (c), Sam Lousi, Sheldon Brown, Adam Henry, Toka Likiliki, Agantius Paasi, Lance Su’a-Poe, Anthony Lama, Siulongua Fotofili, Eddie Aki, Donald Tony, Levi Holland, DJ Collier, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Nathaniel Peteru, Sirovai Makatoa, Simon Gibson, Ben Kingi, Falaniko Leilua, Kane Hannan, Eko Malu, John Palavi, Malakai Houma, Chris Ofanoa.