25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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Top try-scorer Todd Byrne comes back from injury and forwards Richard Villasanti and Monty Betham return to the Vodafone Warriors? starting line-up for their NRL clash against the Bulldogs on Sunday. After missing two matches with a neck complaint, the 26-year-old Byrne regains his spot on the left wing, looking to resume a run that?s produced 12 tries in his last 12 appearances. Head coach Tony Kemp has also shuffled his starting combination in the forwards with prop Villasanti preferred in the run-on side at Ericsson Stadium this weekend and Iafeta Paleaaesina moving to the interchange bench. Vice-captain Monty Betham, who was used from the bench against the Broncos and the Cowboys in the last two matches, will start at loose forward, Sione Faumuina moving into the second row and 139-game veteran Awen Guttenbeil joining Paleaaesina on the bench. ?Todd?s much better after resting his neck the last two weeks and comes in for Manu (Vatuvei), who needs a break after a sternum injury flared up in Townsville,? said Kemp. ?Richard and Monty both played a big part in getting us back into the game when they came off the bench against the Cowboys. They?ve earned the chance to start this week. ?At the same time, we?re looking to Feka (Paleaaesina) and Awen to give us real impact when we bring them on from the bench.? The injection of Villasanti after 12 minutes in Townsville and Betham 10 minutes later coincided with a period when the Vodafone Warriors turned around an early 10-0 deficit to lead the Cowboys 16-10 early in the second half. That the side subsequently lost the match 24-16 still disappoints Kemp. ?We all failed on our trip to Townsville. Collectively the coaching staff and the players take responsibility for that,? he said. ?We all know we?re capable of much better and we showed that against Brisbane. That?s the benchmark performance for us. ?This week against the Bulldogs we have to show desperation because that?s where we?re at.? Apart from Byrne?s swap with Vatuvei, the Vodafone Warriors have the same squad that stopped Brisbane?s 10-match winning streak on June 26. In Byrne?s absence, Vatuvei maintained a healthy try-scoring rate himself with four-pointers against both Brisbane and North Queensland lifting his total for the season to eight in just 10 appearances. Captain Steve Price is still some weeks away from being considered so he will miss the chance this weekend of playing against his old Bulldogs side for the first time. Sunday?s match allows Betham and interchange forward Karl Temata to edge closer to personal milestones. Betham will make his 95th appearance leaving him on target to reach 100 games before the season ends; he?ll become the 10th player to achieve the feat for the club. Temata closes in on the 50-game mark when he makes his 47th appearance. The match has Stacey Jones in countdown mode and also close to passing through another barrier. He?s now only three matches away from his scheduled farewell to the Ericsson Stadium faithful when the Vodafone Warriors take on Newcastle on the weekend of August 19-21.
As the club?s top points-scorer, he also needs just eight more points to reach the 600-mark. The Vodafone Warriors lie 12th on 16 points ahead of Sunday?s match, the Bulldogs just one point ahead in 11th place but with points from their two byes already factored in.
1 BRENT WEBB 2 FRANCIS MELI 3 CLINTONTOOPI 4 JEROME ROPATI 5 TODD BYRNE 6 NATHAN FIEN 7 STACEY JONES (C) 8 RUBEN WIKI 9 LANCE HOHAIA 10 RICHARD VILLASANTI 11 SIONE FAUMUINA 12 WAIRANGI KOOPU 13 MONTY BETHAM
14 IAFETA PALEAAESINA 15 KARL TEMATA 16 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 17 SIMON MANNERING