THE initial offering of tickets to this year's NRL grand final sold out in record time in another indication that interest in rugby league has never been stronger.
VICE-CAPTAIN Monty Betham returns from suspension for Stacey Jones? 238th and last NRL appearance for the Vodafone Warriors when they face Manly in Sydney on Saturday night. A one-match ban kept the 27-year-old Betham out of last Saturday night?s clash with Newcastle, Jones? final outing in front of his hometown fans at Ericsson Stadium.
But Betham, who became a 100-game NRL player in his last appearance, has been named at loose forward for Jones? absolute farewell match for the side he?s been with for 11 seasons.
?It was disappointing for Monty that he couldn?t play alongside his long-time team-mate last week,? said head coach Tony Kemp.
?Along with Awen Guttenbeil, Monty has been around this club for a long time and he was desperate to be involved in Stacey?s last game.?
With Betham back, Louis Anderson has been named to start the Manly match from the interchange bench with Epalahame Lauaki moving out of the squad to travel to Sydney.
Apart from Betham?s inclusion, Kemp has retained the same run-on combination used in last weekend?s disappointing 16-4 loss to the Knights.
At the same time, the chance has been taken to consider the future with exciting Junior Kiwi back rower Sonny Fai included on a six-man bench. Still only 17, the 1.90m-100kg Fai was one of four Vodafone Warriors who attended the NRL?s rookie camp earlier this year.
?This is a chance to give Sonny some exposure to the NRL scene,? said Kemp.
?He?s an outstanding prospect and a match like this, with our finals prospects now gone, gives us an opportunity to introduce him to the first-grade environment.?
Already in the side are two recent graduates from the Vodafone Warriors? elite junior development squad ? centre Simon Mannering and winger Manu Vatuvei. The Manly match will be Mannering?s sixth since his debut against Brisbane in June while Vatuvei will make his 17th appearance, having scored nine tries in 11 games this year.
?When you consider the development we?ve seen this year from Jerome Ropati and Louis Anderson plus Manu and Simon, it?s exciting for next season and beyond,? said Kemp.
Ropati (22 matches) and Anderson (17 matches) have been first-choice players throughout the season, missing from the line-up only through injury.
Meanwhile, second rower Wairangi Koopu is set to finish the season as the only player in the squad to have appeared in all 24 matches. In a year when he has had his best try-scoring return for a season ? eight so far ? Koopu is also the club?s top tackler with 653, ranking him 10th best in the NRL.
Another of the club?s outstanding achievers has been prop Ruben Wiki. Despite missing five matches during the season, he still ranks 18th in the NRL for most hit-ups with 300 and 19th for most metres gained (2590). That?s an average of almost 17 hit-ups and 144 metres a match, ahead of his returns with Canberra last year when he averaged 16 hit-ups and 119 metres a match.
Even in defeat last weekend the Vodafone Warriors provided two of the top five metre gainers for the whole round, Steve Price the best of all with 220 metres and Sione Faumuina with 182 metres. In all, 10 of the 17 players made 100 metres or more.
ELECTRIC Roosters hooker Craig Wing has laughed off suggestions that Brisbane ? coming off three-straight losses ? are in the midst of a post-Origin slide yet again. Roosters coach Ricky Stuart has named an unchanged line-up from last week to tackle the Broncos on Friday night ? knowing anything but a win will ?mathematically? end the club?s finals hopes.
THE NQ Toyota Cowboys Team to play Souths at Gosford has been announced. Toyota Young Guns have a rest week.
FRIDAY 26th August 2005
WESTS Tigers Head Coach, Tim Sheens has announced his squad for the Wests Tigers v Storms Game at Olympic Park, kick off at 5.30pm.
SOUTH Sydney's Luke MacDougall has been suspended for 10 NRL matches after entering an early guilty plea to a grade five dangerous throw charge. MacDougall landed in strife with the judiciary for a lifting tackle on Sydney Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello on Saturday night.
THE Manly Sea Eagles have been forced to name 21 players in a squad for Saturday's crucial Brookvale Oval clash with the New Zealand Warriors.
NEWCASTLE Knights coach Michael Hagen has named his team to play the Sharks at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Saturday evening.
Coach Hagans team is;
SCANS have confirmed that Brisbane Broncos prop Shane Webcke suffered a partial tear of the medial ligament in his left knee in Sunday?s loss to Penrith at Penrith Stadium.
CANBERRA Raiders backrower Ian Hindmarsh says he is confident of recovering from an elbow injury to take on his former club the Eels at Parramatta Stadium this Sunday.
BRISBANE Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has named his team to take on the Roosters on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium.
Coach Bennetts team is;
THE Real Rabbitohs are pleased to announce its team to play the North Queensland Cowboys in Round 25 of the 2005 Telstra Premiership this Sunday, August 28, kicking off at 3pm at Central Coast Stadium.
PARRAMATTA Eels coach Brian Smith has named a strong line-up to take on the Canberra Raiders at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
THE Mitsubishi Electric Bulldogs have made just the one change to their team that suffered a loss to the Tigers last weekend for this Sunday's clash with the Panthers. Adam Perry returns to the interchange having recovered from injury.