25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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Barnstorming Vodafone Warriors prop Iafeta Paleaaesina has regained a starting spot for Saturday night?s NRL clash against Parramatta at Hamilton?s Waikato Stadium. It means the 23-year-old has pushed former Kangaroo Richard Villasanti onto the interchange bench for his 100th milestone appearance. That positional swap is the only change head coach Tony Kemp and his staff have made in retaining the 17 players used in Sunday night?s 24-16 victory over Melbourne. Paleaaesina, who hasn?t started a match since the fifth-round encounter with Wests Tigers in Christchurch in early April, excelled against the Storm. As well as scoring the eighth try of his 72-match career, he topped the team?s hit-up count with 20 and made the most metres (167). ?It?s a selection based totally on merit,? said Kemp. ?Villa hasn?t done anything wrong for us but Feka has come up to another level again in the last two weeks. He demanded selection and on his form he deserves the chance against Parramatta.? While Kemp was delighted with Paleaaesina?s display, he also reserved special mention for halfback Stacey Jones. ?He was back as captain and we were delighted with the way he took on all the extra responsibilities,? said Kemp. ?It was his best performance in the last two seasons. Now it?s up to Stacey to maintain it week in, week out. It?s what we need from him if we are to continue our bid for the top eight.? Kemp had no hesitation in rating the Vodafone Warriors? victory as their best display of the year, even ahead of the round two win over the Broncos in Brisbane. ?It was outstanding all-round. The players showed great resolve, great character and great attitude,? he said. Loose forward Sione Faumuina returns from a one-match suspension as the side?s 18th man while winger Manu Vatuvei was unable to make the squad. ?Manu?s still in contention and pushing for a spot but we just can?t find room for him this week,? said Kemp. Villasanti?s introduction from the bench on Saturday night will make him the fifth player in the squad so far this season to bring up 100 first-grade appearances (after Clinton Toopi, Wairangi Koopu, Francis Meli and Nathan Fien). His first 13 games were for Balmain and then the merger club Wests Tigers in 1999-2000 but since then he has put together 86 appearances for the Vodafone Warriors. The match is a scheduled ?home? game for Parramatta after agreeing to bring the match to Hamilton, giving the Waikato city its first official NRL competition match. ?But rather than an away game I look at this as a home one for us,? said Kemp. Parramatta is second on the NRL ladder after five successive wins while Vodafone Warriors are 10th just on the edge of the top eight. They have now improved to be the 10th best side on attack while they rank fourth-best on defence.
VODAFONE WARRIORS TEAM 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 IAFETA PALEAAESINA 11 LOUIS ANDERSON 12 WAIRANGI KOOPU 13 MONTY BETHAM 14 RICHARD VILLASANTI 15 KARL TEMATA 16 TEVITA LATU 17 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 18TH MAN: SIONE FAUMUINA