Youngsters bid to prop up Warriors
The group competing for the vacant front row spot at the New Zealand Warriors for Round 1 has expanded following the Downer NRL Auckland Nines according to club legend Ruben Wiki.
With veteran big man Ben Matulino set to miss the opening rounds of the season, following surgery on his left knee in January, there is an opening in the engine room for the Kiwi club.
While Jacob Lillyman and Albert Vete are the probable starters, the Warriors have tended to carry three props on their bench in recent times, creating an opportunity for one of their youngsters to earn a spot on the interchange alongside likely candidates Sam Lisone and Charlie Gubb.
"They all put their hand up and it's been a good learning curve for the likes of Isaiah Papalii and Toafofoa Sipley," Wiki said.
"They are knocking on the door of first grade, so hopefully they can learn from this and move on.
"It's just about them putting their best foot forward to show Stephen they can match it in the NRL."
Last year Sipley made his NRL Telstra Premiership debut, playing two matches off the interchange following strong form in the club's Intrust Super Premiership side, while Papalii is yet to play past Holden Cup level, where he appeared in 11 matches for the Junior Warriors in 2016.
Speaking ahead of his appearance for the World All Stars in Friday night's clash against the Indigenous All Stars, Lisone said the props at the Warriors were enjoying the internal competition for places.
"'Mooks' (coach Stephen Kearney) has got a few of us having a run in there, there's a lot of competition coming through," Lisone said.
"Tof Sipley and Isaiah Papalii are putting some pressure on me, Albert and Charlie.
"I thought Isaiah played really well for a young team [at the Nines]."
Both Sipley and Papalii have been named in the Warriors' squad for this Saturday's trial match against the Melbourne Storm at Sunshine Coast Stadium.