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3 hours ago
The injury-hit New Zealand Warriors are down to the bare minimum with just 17 fit players to choose from for Sunday's NRL match against Canberra in Auckland.
Veteran prop Ruben Wiki (hand) and young backrower Sonny Fai (shoulder) are the latest additions to the packed casualty list, joining skipper Steve Price (hamstring), fullback Wade McKinnon (knee), centre Jerome Ropati (hamstring) and wingers Manu Vatuvei (leg) and Patrick Ah Van (neck) on the sidelines.
Fai went down while playing for the Warriors' NYC side against Gold Coast last week, his injury opening the door for under 20s teammate Russell Packer to make his NRL debut.
Packer has put together a string of impressive performances in the youth competition, but it will be interesting to see how the 18-year-old prop handles going up against the big boys as he becomes the sixth Warriors player to make his debut this season.
The Warriors used only 23 players in 26 matches last year, but with Packer called up this weekend, they'll equal that number in just eight games this season.
"We had a great run with injuries last year but it's obviously our turn for a change of luck now," coach Ivan Cleary said.
"It's something we've had to deal with all year. That's the way it is in this competition and now we just have to dig that little bit deeper against Canberra on Sunday.
"It's a great chance for Russell to have a taste of the NRL. He has done everything asked of him in the NYC."
The Warriors will enjoy playing at home this weekend, the Kiwi side a perfect three from three at Mt Smart Stadium in 2008.
Conversely they have yet to register a win from four starts across the Tasman, though Cleary warned his side against expecting a guaranteed two points against the Raiders.
"We've performed well at home and had our issues on the road but that doesn't mean it will all fall into place now we're back at Mt Smart Stadium," Cleary said.
"The boys love playing here and they'll need all the support possible on Sunday."
Utility Aiden Kirk will come into the side for Vatuvei on the wing with Michael Luck to again captain the side.