Steve Price will lead the Vodafone Warriors into battle when they open their 2005 NRL campaign against Manly at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday.
Price, who turns 31 on Saturday, wasn?t risked in either of the club?s two pre-season trials but head coach Tony Kemp has no concerns about calling him straight into the side this weekend.
?We?re delighted to have him available for the start of the season,? he said.
?Steve had some trouble with shin soreness but he?s fine now.
?He?s made a huge difference since joining our coaching sessions and, while he missed the trials, we?re confident he?ll handle it.?
Price will be part of a totally new starting front row for the Warriors, making his debut for his new club alongside two of the other off-season signings.
As expected, North Queensland halfback Nathan Fien has the dummy half?s job while 12-year Canberra veteran and Kiwi captain Ruben Wiki starts at prop.
?Steve and Ruben give us enormous experience. They?ll take us forward and give us the platform we want while Nathan has looked outstanding doing the No 9?s job,? said Kemp.
The fourth off-season gain Todd Byrne lines up on the right wing after joining the Vodafone Warriors after 61 games with the Roosters.
In the battle for back-row spots, vice-captain Monty Betham ? 27 on Saturday ? starts in his preferred position at loose forward while Awen Guttenbeil begins his 10th first grade season in his customary spot in the second row. The decision to move Wiki to the front row enables Wairangi Koopu to start in the second row in his 93rd NRL appearance.
Lance Hohaia, a Kiwi as a 19-year-old in 2002, has clinched the standoff?s spot ahead of Jerome Ropati, who?s on the bench providing cover at No 6 as well as centre and fullback.
Completing the bench are props Richard Villasanti and Iafeta Paleaaesina plus back rower Louis Anderson, who can also cover hooker.
?We have good coverage of positions with this team but it was a really difficult one to pick,? said Kemp.
?There are quite a few players who are disappointed to miss out and we?d expect that. At the same time, they?re all capable of pushing past those who have been selected.?
One notable feature of the squad is the level of playing experience across the board.
Wiki (225 matches), Price (222), Stacey Jones (215) and Guttenbeil (124) are at the head of the queue but several more are poised to join the 100-club this season. Clinton Toopi?s the closest, making his 97th appearance on Sunday, but Koopu (92), Fien (91), Francis Meli (89), Villasanti (89), Tony Martin (87) and Monty Betham (85) aren?t too far away either.
Of the 17 players, only Anderson (16) and Ropati (12) have played fewer than 50 NRL matches.
The match against the Manly Sea Eagles kicks of at 2.00pm on Sunday.
The team is:
1 BRENT WEBB 2 TODD BYRNE 3 TONY MARTIN 4 CLINTON TOOPI 5 FRANCIS MELI 6 LANCE HOHAIA 7 STACEY JONES 8 RUBEN WIKI 9 NATHAN FIEN 10 STEVE PRICE (C) 11 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 12 WAIRANGI KOOPU 13 MONTY BETHAM (VC) 14 JEROME ROPATI 15 IAFETA PALEAAESINA 16 LOUIS ANDERSON 17 RICHARD VILLASANTILike