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Experienced winger Francis Meli and off-season buy Nathan Fien will give the Vodafone Warriors a special celebration when they face Wests Tigers at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday. In a first for the club, they?ll both clock up their 100th first-grade appearances in the same match. But for an eye injury ruling him out of two games, Fien (25) would have reached the mark already after coming to Auckland with 91 appearances for North Queensland since his debut in 2000. Meli (26), who started his first-grade career in 1999, will reach his milestone after appearing in all 10 of the Vodafone Warriors? matches so far this season. He?s one of only four players to do so along with centre Todd Byrne, utility Jerome Ropati and back row forward Wairangi Koopu. ?It?s been quite a year for reaching 100 appearances at the club,? said head coach Tony Kemp. ?We?ve already seen Clinton (Toopi) and Wairangi (Koopu) get there in the past few weeks and now we?re looking at two of our players hitting a hundred on the same day. ?Over the last two weeks, Francis has been in great form for us and now we?re looking for him to maintain that consistently. We asked him for improvement two weeks ago and he has responded outstandingly. ?We knew we had a great buy when we signed Nathan and, in his first game back from injury last weekend, he again showed us what he brings to the side.? Meli will become the ninth player to register 100 appearances in Warriors colours. Kemp and his selectors have had the rare luxury of being able to name a settled combination to take on Wests Tigers, who sit 10th on the NRL ladder with 12 points, one place ahead of the Vodafone Warriors. The only change from the starting line-up used against the Rabbitohs sees captain Steve Price return from State of Origin duty with Queensland, forcing Richard Villasanti back to the bench. ?With Nathan coming back at standoff and Sione (Faumuina) going to the back row, we liked the shape of the side we started with against Souths,? said Kemp. ?Through injury and suspension we hadn?t been able to field the line-up we really wanted but last weekend we could and the side had a better balance about it. ?Now we want to make further improvements and develop the combinations, especially in the key positions of hooker, halfback and standoff.? Price?s return also presented some selection challenges. ?Steve will know how much he?ll be able to give the side after tomorrow night?s Origin match but at the same time his return means someone has to miss out,? said Kemp. ?We have great depth in the front row this year and everyone?s making a contribution. It?s a good position to be in when you have to make a choice about who plays and who doesn?t.? To that end, a six-man interchange bench has been named with two players to be omitted later in the week. Awen Guttenbeil, who missed the trip to Sydney with a calf injury, will be given every chance again to prove he?s ready to play. Kemp said he?ll have to undergo a fitness test on Friday. Wests Tigers come to Auckland after giving the Vodafone Warriors their only loss of more than 10 points this season (24-6) on April 9 in Christchurch. That night the Warriors were without inspirational prop Ruben Wiki ? who was serving a four-match suspension ? and fullback Brent Webb failed to last much more than half the match after a relapse of a back injury.
115 Ali Lauitiiti
VODAFONE WARRIORS V WESTS TIGERS
Ericsson Stadium, Auckland
2.00pm, Sunday, May 29
VODAFONE WARRIORS TEAM
1 BRENT WEBB 2 FRANCIS MELI 3 TODD BYRNE 4 JEROME ROPATI 5 MANU VATUVEI 6 NATHAN FIEN 7 STACEY JONES 8 RUBEN WIKI 9 LANCE HOHAIA 10 STEVE PRICE (C) 11 LOUIS ANDERSON 12 WAIRANGI KOOPU 13 SIONE FAUMUINA 14 RICHARD VILLASANTI 15 KARL TEMATA 16 AWEN GUTTENBEIL 17 CLINTON TOOPI 20 TEVITA LATU 24 IAFETA PALEAAESINA