John Palavi will become just the fifth Junior Warriors player to appear in 50 NYC matches when he leads the defending premiers in their 13th-round encounter with Melbourne at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 1.45pm).
Besides reaching the relatively rare milestone of 50 NYC games, the 19-year-old St Paul’s College product also has the distinction of playing across four seasons in the competition since making his debut in 2009.
Now a member of the club’s fulltime NRL squad, Palavi will follow former Junior Warriors captains – and also back rowers – Elijah Taylor and Ben Henry in clocking up 50 games.
Taylor and Henry have both established themselves in the NRL, Taylor after 52 NYC games from 2008 through to the grand final win in 2010 while Henry made his 64th and last appearance in last year’s NYC grand final.
Taylor and hooker Nafe Seluini reached the 50-game mark together in the finals in 2010 with centre Siuatonga Likiliki achieving the feat in the grand final; Henry followed last year.
More important than the milestone for Palavi, his team-mates and coach John Ackland will be their performance against the Storm on Sunday.
They will be coming off a bye two weeks after plummeting to one of the club’s worst displays in the NYC’s five-year history, losing 12-54 to the then-competition leaders Wests Tigers, who a week later fell to a 36-38 loss to North Queensland.
The defeat also cost the Junior Warriors their influential hooker Siliva Havili, forced off the field early with a high ankle sprain. He has joined a casualty list which includes Donald Tony, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Braxton Stanley and Atu Tupou.
While Havili, who has scored 10 tries in 11 matches, will be missing against the Storm, seasoned fullback Omar Slaimankhel is set to return from a hamstring strain and prop Nathaniel Peteru has been named after spending several weeks on the side-line with a knee injury.
Slaimankhel has been able to play only six matches so far this year and Peteru just four. Also set for a return is winger Viliami Lolohea, who scored four tries in five games earlier in the season.
Slaimankhel’s inclusion results in Peta Hiku moving onto the wing while Ngataua Hukatai has been switched to the centres.
Apart from Eko Malu replacing Havili at hooker, the rest of the forward pack is the same. Poised to make his NYC debut is Papakura junior Trent Bishop, named on the bench as the interchange dummy half after recently turning out for the Vulcans in the New South Wales Cup.
After being within a point of the competition lead, the Junior Warriors are now in sixth spot on 17 points, three points adrift of outright leader Canberra. Melbourne is 11th on 11 points.