In recent years the Warriors’ back-row have become renowned for their ability to play the full 80 minutes, but coach Stephen Kearney says there will be no such expectations placed on rookie Isaiah Papali’i on Saturday against Newcastle
With Bodene Thompson suffering a torn pectoral in last week’s 26-12 loss to the Cronulla Sharks, Kearney has called on 18-year-old Papali’i to start in the second-row despite playing only 21 minutes of NRL football so far in his career.
Confirmation Bodene Thompson has a torn pec. Likely tendon rupture, will be looking at surgery and 10-16 weeks recovery. Best of luck to him
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) August 2, 2017
But while fellow youngster Bunty Afoa has smashed through the full 80 in three of the past four games while filling in for the injured Ryan Hoffman, the forward rotation will be altered to allow Papali’i to play short stints against the Knights.
“I don’t have an expectation for Isaiah to play 80. Bunty has done that the last three weeks or so and has done a really good job, but I don’t have that expectation for Isaiah,” Kearney said.
“We are pretty fortunate that we have a guy in Simon [Mannering] who can play a few positions… he can slip out onto an edge if we need him to do that.
“Isaiah is a young man with a great deal of potential for this football club. He was man of the match last week in reserve grade, he’s been in and around the [NRL] 21 named most weeks.
“It’s just a matter of making sure that we give him an opportunity and that opportunity presents itself this week.”
After appearing at the NRL Auckland Nines earlier this year, Papali’i earned a spot on the Warriors’ bench for the club’s season opener, ironically against Newcastle that time as well, but hasn’t been sighted at first-grade level since.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) March 6, 2017
Instead the 2016 New Zealand secondary school rugby union player of the year has balanced his time this season playing in both the U-20 and reserve-grade competitions.
But Warriors centre David Fusitu’a, who is likely to partner Papali’i down the right edge, said there were no concerns that the rookie would be out of place.
“He’s a smart kid so I am sure he will be fine,” Fusitu’a said.
“I know Blake will get around him and help direct him around the field. I am going to be in everyone’s ear on my edge, as well.
“He will do his job… he is one kid you can rely on to be there when you need him to be.
“I have seen the confidence grow in him throughout the year and no doubt that is going to continue.