Veteran pair in doubt for Warriors' opener
New Zealand Warriors veterans Manu Vatuvei and Bodene Thompson are racing the clock to be fit for their side's Round 1 NRL Telstra Premiership clash against the Newcastle Knights.
The pair haven't fronted for any of the club's pre-season hit-outs, missing the Downer NRL Auckland Nines and subsequent trials against both the Storm and Titans, due to niggling injuries.
Vatuvei trained this week but isn't back to full fitness after tweaking his knee during a wrestling drill earlier this month, while Thompson was still restricted to running drills away from the rest of the squad as recently as last week, battling to come back from an ankle complaint.
Coach Stephen Kearney said there was every chance the duo wouldn't be fit, or would be overlooked for Round 1 due to a lack of suitable preparation, while former captain Ryan Hoffman was still working his way back from an ankle injury picked up last weekend.
"Everyone is progressing pretty well, it looks like everyone will be close to available for Round 1," Kearney said.
"There's a couple of guys there who won't have played matches, so I need to have a good think about that over the weekend
"Manu has progressed really well in the last couple of weeks but hasn't had a trial and Bodene is in the same boat, they are the two main guys.
"Ben [Matulino] will be about Round 5 (still recovering from off-season surgery on a knee complaint which he revealed this week has been further complicated by an infection).
"[With Ryan Hoffman] we are quietly confident he is progressing well."
There was good news however on the progress of one of the players in the race to replace Matulino for the first part of the season, with prop Charlie Gubb stating he will be fit for the club's season opener at Mt Smart Stadium on March 5.
Gubb was taken to hospital for precautionary x-rays after hurting his neck in an awkward tackle in last weekend's trial against the Titans, and sat out training this week as a result.
"I'm ready to play Round 1... I got a neck injury in the Titans game and had to go off and have a week and a bit off, so I will be back training on Monday," Gubb said.
"[It's] nothing serious, just the nerves are a bit messed up."
While losing Vatuvei and Thompson would be a blow for the Warriors – particularly given the pair boast almost 350 first-grade games between them – the Kiwi club are blessed with quality depth in both the wing and back-row positions.
Powerful back Ken Maumalo would be the likely replacement should Vatuvei fail to take the field, while second-year player Bunty Afoa appears ready to assume a starting spot in the second row.