Warriors a worthy replacement at Oakes Oval

BYE, bye Benji but here comes The Beast.

Local rugby league fans disappointed that Benji Marshall and his West Tigers have pulled out of a deal to play in Lismore can console themselves with the thought of the 112kg, 189cm winger Manu Vatuvei steamrolling down Oakes Oval for the NZ Warriors.

Part speed man, part wrecking ball and pure animal, Vatuvei is one six World Cup winners who are pencilled in to play in the NRL trial match against the Gold Coast Titans in Lismore on February 28.

A day after the Tigers withdrew from the match because they were not guaranteed a set appearance fee, Northern Rivers’ sports fans are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of seeing 10 internationals in action on our home turf.

While the Titans have Australian players Anthony Laffranchi and Scott Prince, the Warriors boast Kangaroos Steve Price and Brent Tate alongside NZ’s Vatuvei, Lance Hohaia, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Nathan Fien and Sam Rapira.

The match will be the last hit-out before the season proper and both clubs have announced intentions to field full-strength teams.

Lismore City Council Event Manager John Bancroft said the loss of Wests had not prompted any complaints.

“We’re still happy,” he said.

“It would’ve been nice (to have the Tigers), they’re a traditional club with a lot of history but the Warriors are certainly a powerful force in the NRL, so it won’t matter to too many people.

“There might be some Tigers fans who’re disappointed, but we’re still happy to have the Titans playing someone in the NRL.

“It means the event has lost none of its charm.”

The Warriors were scheduled to play Manly on the Sunshine Coast the same weekend, but with the 2008 premiers travelling to England for the World Club Challenge, the Warriors opted to play the Titans rather than a second-string Sea Eagles.

Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League Chairman Robin Harley said it was common for NRL teams to demand appearance fees.

“They all want appearance fees,” he said.

“I can understand why, when they travel for a trial match they feel like they should get something because of what they would’ve got if the match was played at home.

“In this particular situation if the Tigers required an appearance fee, I don’t see why the NRL couldn’t say, ‘Here’s the money you want’ and next year reverse it when they host the Titans.

“I applaud the Titans in taking this game away from the Gold Coast considering they could’ve got around 20,000 (spectators) up there and they’ll only get around 8000 here.”

But all politics aside, the match-up is worth hosting.

“The fact is we’ve got two NRL teams playing in the area and that’s about as good as it gets,” Harley said.

It seems the only losers are Tigers fans, including Western Suburbs team of the century player, Ballina’s Dennis Meaney.

“It’s disappointing they’re not coming,” he said.

“They’re a very popular club. I would’ve loved to go and watch them play.

“It seems strange that the Warriors can come over but the Tigers can’t.”

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