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ALL EYES ON STACEY'S FAREWELL.. Departing halfback Stacey Jones is the undoubted centre of attention as the Vodafone Warriors build towards his last NRL appearance in front of the Ericsson Stadium faithful on Saturday night.
The club?s last home match of the 2005 season against Newcastle doubles as a farewell to Jones before he takes up a two-year contract with Perpignan-based French club UTC in the English Super League next year.
His looming departure after 11 seasons with the club will be marked at a sold-out testimonial lunch at the Ellerslie Convention Centre tomorrow. Organised by Peter Leitch (the Mad Butcher), the list of speakers includes Prime Minister Helen Clark, NRL CEO David Gallop, Vodafone Warriors CEO Mick Watson and Jones? long-time friend and team-mate Awen Guttenbeil. While Steve Price is back as captain, the 29-year-old Jones will lead the Vodafone Warriors onto the field for the last time of his career on Saturday night. After doing a lap of the ground to say goodbye to fans after his 237th match, he?ll continue the farewell theme at a party in the Super Top at Ericsson Stadium later on.
Head coach Tony Kemp said the coaching staff and players are striving to give Jones a huge send-off.
?There?ll be a lot of emotion surrounding Saturday night and so there should be,? said Kemp.
?Stacey has done so much for this club and for rugby league in this country. Along with all of us, he was planning to finish his time here by playing finals football one more time but the least we can do is to send him off the right way at his home ground. No one deserves it more. ?It?s going to be a terrific night with two of game?s greatest halfbacks on the field. Andrew Johns has been in brilliant form for the Knights and Stacey has had a fine season for us. Those two players alone will be worth watching.? Jones will be part of a Vodafone Warriors team showing some changes with two of his longest-serving team-mates missing the farewell. Hooker Monty Betham has copped a one-match ban after an early guilty plea on a grade one dangerous throw charge against Melbourne last Saturday night while St Helens-bound winger Francis Meli has made way for exciting 19-year-old Manu Vatuvei. Another 100-game plus veteran who won?t be there is prop Richard Villasanti (knee injury) while Lance Hohaia (knee) is still on the injured list, too.
While Vatuvei returns after scoring eight tries in 10 appearances earlier this season, Jerome Ropati (leg) comes back from a one-week injury break and Epalahame Lauaki is promoted after strong Bartercard Cup form for Glenora to fill Villasanti?s vacancy on the bench.
Nathan Fien is forced to switch position from standoff back to hooker through Betham?s absence. His try last week ? his fifth in his last four outings ? brought up is 100 points in the NRL. That moves sees Sione Faumuina come into the No 6 jersey again while Clinton Toopi reclaims his starting position in the centres. ?We want a positive finish to the year after what?s happened in our last three games,? said Kemp.
?At the same time, there?s now a chance to look at one or two options so, with Francis set to leave us, we?re keen to bring Manu back into the side to get more NRL experience.? Bothered by injury and a viral complaint recently, Vatuvei last played against North Queensland on July 2 while Lauaki will make his fifth appearance of the year after last playing in the loss to Parramatta in Hamilton on June 18.
The Vodafone Warriors, 12th in the competition with 20 points, beat the Knights 30-26 when the two teams met in Newcastle in April. The Knights are still running 15th but have won their last four matches on end to sit on 16 points. Jason Robinson has been appointed to referee the match. ? Jones is set to play his 238th and final match for the Vodafone Warriors against Manly at Brookvale Oval on August 27. ? His Vodafone Warriors records to date include: o Most appearances (236) o Most points (644) o Most tries (74) o Most goals (168) o Most field goals (12) o Most consecutive appearances (101 ? 1995-99)
VODAFONE WARRIORS V NEWCASTLE
Ericsson Stadium, Auckland
7.30pm, Saturday, August 20
VODAFONE WARRIORS TEAM:
1 BRENT WEBB 2 MANU VATUVEI 3 CLINTON TOOPI 4 SIMON MANNERING 5 TODD BYRNE 6 SIONE FAUMUINA 7 STACEY JONES 8 RUBEN WIKI 9 NATHAN FIEN 10 STEVE PRICE (C) 11 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 12 WAIRANGI KOOPU 13 LOUIS ANDERSON 14 IAFETA PALEAAESINA 15 KARL TEMATA 16 JEROME ROPATI 24 EPALAHAME LAUAKI