Vatuvei to aid Warriors' forward effort
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney had one eye on the impending challenge of a giant Canterbury Bulldogs pack when opted to start Manu Vatuvei on the wing for Friday night's clash in Dunedin.
Still without experienced prop Ben Matulino due to injury, and with his forwards having struggled at times to assert themselves in contests against the Knights and Storm, Kearney's inclusion of the 109kg Vatuvei effectively gives the Warriors another middle forward to lean on early in tackle counts.
Vatuvei replaces 22-year-old utility back Tuimoala Lolohea and will line up across the field from Ken Maumalo, with the pair giving the Warriors a combined 214kgs of bulk on the flanks.
"[Manu] will bring a strong carry, he carries the ball pretty strong and I think the experience he brings with his game [is important]," Kearney said of Vatuvei, who played for the club's reserve-grade side in the opening two rounds.
"He has played over 200 games of NRL, he has done the business in the past.
"He has done really well [in reserve grade], he didn't get the opportunity to play any of the trials so the idea was to give him some game time and I am happy with that."
The Bulldogs have named five international forwards for the Round 3 encounter at Forsyth Barr Stadium, ensuring they will present a huge challenge for the youthful Warriors' pack.
Despite being ranked fifth in the NRL Telstra Premiership for metres gained after the first two weeks, 15-season veteran Jacob Lillyman told NRL.com he believed his fellow big men had plenty more to offer.
"There is always room for improvement, we can certainly step it up a level and we will try and do that this week," Lillyman said.
"A few of the young forwards have shown maturity beyond their years
"Sammy [Lisone] and I have been on the bench and our goal over the last two weeks was to just try and bring some energy and lift the team a little bit, and I think we have done OK.
"We know how tough the Bulldogs are, and their backs are to the wall a little bit.
"They don't go away… we are under no illusions, it's going to be a really tough game."
Meanwhile Vatuvei will have fond memories of his only previous competitive game at Forsyth Barr Stadium, having scored a crucial try for the Kiwis in a 16-14 victory over England at the venue during the 2014 Four Nations.
Now in his 14th season in the top flight, Vatuvei will line up against first-grade debutante Marcelo Montoya, who comes in for the injured Kerrod Holland.