Injuries force Warriors reshuffle
Micheal Luck's injury-enforced unavailability has resulted in a selection reshuffle for the New Zealand Warriors' 15th-round NRL encounter with North Queensland at Dairy Farmers Stadium in Townsville on Saturday night.
With Luck sidelined for up to eight weeks after partially dislocating his left patella in last Sunday's clash against Wests Tigers, 21-year-old NRL rookie Elijah Taylor has been named to fill the loose forward's role against the Cowboys.
Promoted from the bench to start in Taylor's spot in the second row is Steve Rapira, whose third outing for the Warriors will be against the club he played for 26 times in 2009 and 2010. Lewis Brown is moved out of the centres to fill the back rower's role on the interchange bench.
Taylor is averaging 35.5 tackles a match in his 10 consecutive outings since his debut against Cronulla. Of his team-mates only Luck (39.3 tackles a game) has made more.
Krisnan Inu, the club's top try scorer with seven touchdowns in 12 appearances, will start in the centres for the first time for the club with Glen Fisiiahi (20) making his first-grade return in Inu's position on the right wing.
Aaron Heremaia is also recalled to start at hooker after missing last weekend's match with a hand injury.
The Warriors travel to Townsville on Thursday morning, going into this weekend's round sitting in seventh spot on the NRL ladder on 16 points, four behind the fourth-placed Cowboys.
After winning five matches straight, the Warriors have lost their last two games to the Sydney Roosters (6-13) and Wests Tigers (22-26).
"We were all hugely disappointed with the way we lost to the Tigers last Sunday because we'd played really well for most of the game. We've moved on from it now but there are lessons we take with us," said Warriors coach Ivan Cleary.
"Now we face the Cowboys in Townsville, one the toughest away trips in the competition. Yet again we've suffered a significant injury setback to one of our most experienced players in Lucky but it means we have another chance to test the depth of our squad by giving others opportunities."
The Cowboys have built an impressive record against the Warriors in Townsville, last losing to them there 20-50 in 2002.
Apart from Luck, senior prop Sam Rapira remains sidelined with a thumb injury, seasoned halfback Brett Seymour has a cheekbone injury, 36-game second rower Ukuma Ta'ai hasn't yet recovered from a knee injury and experienced centre Jerome Ropati (knee) is out for season. With Luck out, captain Simon Mannering, prop Ben Matulino, second rower Feleti Mateo - the players' player of the day last Sunday - and Brown are the only players set to extend their streaks of playing in every round so far this season.
The Cowboys will be without Kiwi centre Antonio Winterstein and Queensland centre Willie Tonga, both on the injured list, while former Warrior Brent Tate is still a few weeks away from returning after knee surgery.
Also ruled out is former Manly forward Glenn Hall, who has taken an early guilty plea on a high tackle charge he landed after last weekend's loss to Manly. Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott will be back from State of Origin duty.
1 Kevin Locke
2 Glen Fisiiahi
3 Krisnan Inu
4 Simon Mannering (c)
5 Manu Vatuvei
6 James Maloney
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Russell Packer
9 Aaron Heremaia
10 Jacob Lillyman
11 Feleti Mateo
12 Steve Rapira
13 Elijah Taylor
14 Lance Hohaia
15 Jeremy Latimore
16 Ben Matulino
17 Lewis Brown