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Vodafone Warriors Jerome Ropati and Louis Anderson will make their 50th first-grade appearances in Sunday?s NRL clash against the fourth-placed Bulldogs at Telstra Stadium. The two 21-year-olds again line up in a Vodafone Warriors side that?s been all but unchanged since starting a four-match winning streak against the Roosters on June 11. The only change during that spell has come about through captain Steve Price?s State of Origin commitments but they finish for the season tomorrow night when he and his Queensland team-mates face New South Wales in the series-deciding third match at Melbourne?s Telstra Dome. In his absence, the Vodafone Warriors picked up maximum points against Wests Tigers, the Roosters and Penrith while Ruben Wiki was stand-in captain. ?There have been a lot of pleasing aspects lately and one of them is the fact we have been able to win each time Steve was out of the side,? said head coach Ivan Cleary. ?That?s a reflection on the contribution every player has made but we?re also really fortunate to have a leader of Ruben?s ability when Steve?s not there. ?Now Steve?s set to return on a permanent basis, which can only help us at a time when we?ve able keep such a settled side together.? Sunday?s match provides personal milestones for Ropati and Anderson, the former making his debut in 2003 and the latter early in the 2004 season. ?For young players they have done extremely well and they?re certainly showing signs of developing to the next level,? said Cleary. Anderson has crammed in an extraordinary amount of top-level football for a player who turned 21 only a week ago. Besides eyeing his 50th outing for the Vodafone Warriors he has also played 13 tests for the Kiwis already. If the clash at Telstra Stadium will have meaning for Ropati and Anderson, it will also be a special occasion for Price who will play in front of a Bulldogs crowd for the first time since leaving his old club after the 2004 season. In fact, this will be the first time the Vodafone Warriors have played the Bulldogs in Sydney since winning 48-22 in the 2003 finals. That match was the fourth leg of a five-match winning run for the Vodafone Warriors. After beating the Roosters, Newcastle, South Sydney and Penrith in the last four rounds, the Vodafone Warriors can make it five on end again this weekend but Cleary?s more interested in the quality of the performance than the statistics. ?We won but won ugly against Penrith last weekend,? he said. ?It?s not a case of thinking about five in a row when we take on the Bulldogs. For us it?s all about putting together a much-improved overall performance.
?We held on well to beat the Panthers but the Bulldogs are at another level. They?re in the top four and have been playing really tough football for quite a few weeks now. We?ll have to be a whole lot better to match them.? The Bulldogs will have New South Wales front rowers Mark O?Meley and Willie Mason backing up from tomorrow night?s Origin match along with Queensland forward Nate Myles.
Late today Bulldogs centre Willie Tonga was also called into the Queensland squad to cover for Josh Hannay, who has a virus. At the same time, the Bulldogs will be missing former New Zealand winger Matt Utai and interchange prop Jarrad Hickey who both entered early guilty pleas of high tackle charges today. Meanwhile, other milestones are in view for several Vodafone Warriors. Fullback Brent Webb plays his 98th match on Sunday and loose forward Sione Faumuina his 97th. Tony Martin, who scored 12 points in the win against Penrith, is now the NRL?s second highest points-scorer with 144, needing just six more points to join Hazem El Masri as the only other player to top 150 this season. He?s also poised to register the third highest individual points total in a season in the club?s history. Stacey Jones? 147 points last season is just ahead while Cleary has the two best totals of 242 in 2002 and 173 in 2001. Shayne Hayne has been appointed to referee Sunday?s match.
VODAFONE WARRIORS V BULLDOGS
Telstra Stadium, Sydney
1 BRENT WEBB 2 PATRICK AH VAN 3 TONY MARTIN 4 SIMON MANNERING 5 MANU VATUVEI 6 JEROME ROPATI 7 GRANT ROVELLI 8 RUBEN WIKI (VC) 9 NATHAN FIEN 10 STEVE PRICE (C) 11 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 12 LOUIS ANDERSON 13 SIONE FAUMUINA 14 LANCE HOHAIA 15 EVARN TUIMAVAVE 16 WAIRANGI KOOPU 17 MICHEAL LUCK
18th MAN: SAM RAPIRA