Warriors opt for Adam Keighran in the halves as Issac Luke misses out
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/111222176/-

2019-03-12 07:16:49

Adam Keighran has won the race to partner Blake Green in the halves at the Warriors, while veteran hooker Issac Luke has been left out of the squad as he continues to recover from injury.

Keighran has been named to make his NRL debut in the No 6 jersey in Saturday's season-opening clash against the Bulldogs at Mt Smart Stadium.

The 21-year-old wasn't initially expected to feature in the Warriors' plans for round one when he joined the club in the off-season from Penrith.

However, he soon found himself locked in a battle to fill the gaping void left by Shaun Johnson's abrupt departure to Cronulla at the end of last year.

His main competition came from former Warriors under-20s player of the year Chanel Harris-Tavita, who has been included on an extended bench, and both had their moments in the two trial wins over Melbourne and Wests Tigers.

Keighran has slightly more experience at reserve grade level, where he played for the past two years - first for the Bulldogs before switching to the Panthers last year.

He has a more robust style, having spent his entire 2018 campaign as a centre, and is also expected to take up the goal-kicking duties in Johnson's absence.

"I'm pleased that they've worked extremely hard and got themselves to the position that they've got to," Kearney said at a media session on Tuesday before the team was announced.

"They've both had some positive parts to their trial matches against Melbourne and the Tigers. That's all we can ask - to put themselves into a position to be selected. Now it's a matter of this week, who's going to best suit the team."

Keighran is one of three new recruits in the squad alongside forwards Lachlan Burr and Leeson Ah Mau.

Burr is set to start at lock in his first NRL appearance in three years after Isaiah Papali'i was stood down for a week due to a drink-driving offence.

Ah Mau, the Warriors' major off-season signing, will begin his second stint at Mt Smart off the bench.

After two appearances for the Warriors in 2009, the Samoa and New Zealand international went on to play 177 games for the Cowboys and Dragons before being lured home on a three-year deal.

Apart from Papali'i, the biggest name to miss out was Luke, although for entirely different reasons.

Luke underwent shoulder surgery at the end of last season and while he missed both trials, the 31-year-old had hoped to be cleared in time to face the Bulldogs.

It appears Kearney has erred on the side of caution, though, leaving him out of the 21-man squad and opening the door for injury-prone dummy-half Nathaniel Roache to make his first appearance since 2017.

Roache missed all of last year with a serious back issue but enjoyed an encouraging pre-season, while the Warriors have cover on the bench in the form of Dally M interchange player of the year Jazz Tevaga.

Also returning to the side is centre Blake Ayshford, who has been named on the bench to cover the outside backs and back-row ahead of Kiwis international Gerard Beale.

Meanwhile, the start of the season signals a change in roles for last year's regular centres Peta Hiku and Solomone Kata.

Hiku has been switched to the left edge along with back-rower Tohu Harris, where they will link up with wing Ken Maumalo.

Kata is set to line up on the right with Adam Blair and fellow Tonga international David Fusitu'a.

"[Kata] came to me and said he's a right edge player. He got shifted over to the left edge when Konrad (Hurrell) came into the team," Kearney said.

"It's been pretty seamless in terms of the transitioning of those individuals."

AT A GLANCE

NZ Warriors vs Canterbury Bulldogs 5pm Saturday, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland

Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), David Fusitu'a, Peta Hiku, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo, Adam Keighran, Blake Green, Agnatius Paasi, Nathaniel Roache, Bunty Afoa, Adam Blair, Tohu Harris, Lachlan Burr. Interchange: Jazz Tevaga, Sam Lisone, Leeson Ah Mau, Blake Ayshford, Gerard Beale, Ligi Sao, Karl Lawton, Chanel Harris-Tavita.

Bulldogs: Will Hopoate, Christian Crichton, Kerrod Holland, Marcelo Montoya, Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Lachlan Lewis, Aiden Tolman, Michael Lichaa, Dylan Napa, Josh Jackson, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Adam Elliott, Jeremy Marshall-King, Danny Fualalo, Corey Harawira-Naera, Sauaso Sue. Reserves: Jack Cogger, Nick Meaney, Chris Smith, Ofahiki Ogden.

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