Issac Luke dropped, Ryan Hoffman back as struggling Warriors make changes for Raiders clash

The Warriors will welcome back influential second rower Ryan Hoffman to their starting side to face the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium this Sunday, while Issac Luke is dropped to the interchange bench.

Hoffman has been out of action since late June, injuring his foot in the 21-14 victory over the Bulldogs, most notably however, the Warriors have not won a single game in his absence, losing their last five consecutive matches.

His return sees youngster Isaiah Papali'i drop to the bench, while Bunty Afoa switches to the right edge to accommodate Hoffman's return.

Luke's axing sees Nathaniel Roache given a rare start at hooker, having scored his first NRL try in last week's 26-10 loss to the Knights.

Roache will start just his third NRL match, having featured 20 times in his short Warriors career.

Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. David Fusitu'a, 3. Blake Ayshford, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. Ken Maumalo, 6. Kieran Foran, 7. Mason Lino, 8. Jacob Lillyman, 9. Nathaniel Roache, 10. Ben Matulino, 11. Bunty Afoa, 12. Ryan Hoffman, 13. Simon Mannering.

Interchange (from): 14. Issac Luke, 15. Sam Lisone, 16. Isaiah Papali'i, 17. James Bell, 18. Jazz Tevaga, 20. Chris Satae, 21. Ata Hingano, 22. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

Warriors hooker Issac Luke. Vodafone Warriors v  St George Illawarra Dragons. NRL Rugby League. Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand. Friday 19 May 2017 © Copyright Photo: Bruce Lim / www.Photosport.nz
Warriors hooker Issac Luke in action against St George Illawarra Dragons. Source: Photosport


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Storm star Billy Slater charged for shoulder charge, faces NRL grand final ban

Billy Slater's hopes of an NRL grand final fairytale farewell are over unless he can beat a ban for a shoulder charge at the judiciary this week.

Slater was charged with a grade-one offence for his hit on Cronulla's Sosaia Feki on Friday night, meaning he will miss one match even with an early guilty plea.

The retiring superstar was penalised for the incident but not placed on report on Friday night, after he came across in cover to save a try and put Feki into touch.

Melbourne are confident they will beat the charge and began preparing their defence as early as Friday night, and will push for the case to be brought forward to Monday if the NRL deems it possible.

"It's pretty hard to make a conventional tackle when you're going across at top speed trying to save a try like that," Slater said after Friday night's win.

"I was going across in desperation to try and save the try. I was at top speed, Sosaia Feki was at top speed.

"I thought he was going to step back inside me hence why I was upright. It's hard to get your head down for a shoulder tackle position.
"It was just an unfortunate collision."

Melbourne captain Cameron Smith also missed the Storm's 2008 grand final loss to Manly through suspension, while Kiwi hooker Issac Luke is the last big name to have missed a decider due to a ban with South Sydney in 2014.

The loss of Slater will be a massive blow to the Storm regardless of whether they play the Sydney Roosters or Souths, given he is still close to his best despite being 317 games into his NRL career.

The fullback scored two tries and set up another in Friday night's 22-6 preliminary final win over the Sharks at AAMI Park, and also saved two tries at the back - with one being the hit on Feki.

If he is suspended, youngster Jahrome Hughes would likely come in for just his 18th NRL match and first finals clash. Scott Drinkwater and Ryley Jacks would form less likely options.

The charge comes after Sharks coach Shane Flanagan declared on Friday night he should be free to play in the decider and stand-in captain Luke Lewis questioned how he could be suspended at all.

"What do you want him to do?" Lewis said.

"He's one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game and you have to stop a try and put your body on the line.

"If someone was to miss a game for something like that, I don't know what our game would be coming to. It's a contact sport.


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Let Billy Slater play declares Sharks stalwart: 'I don't know what our game would be coming to'

Cronulla's Luke Lewis has leapt to the defence of Billy Slater, implying the game's gone soft if the Melbourne superstar is banned for his farewell NRL grand final.

Slater faces a nervous wait to see if he is sanctioned for a shoulder charge on Sosaia Feki, after he was penalised for throwing his body at the Sharks winger to save a try in Storm's 22-6 preliminary final win.

A charge would attract 200 demerit points, enough to rule him out of next Sunday's decider against South Sydney or the Sydney Roosters.

The former Kangaroos and Queensland fullback would need to successfully fight the punishment at the NRL judiciary to have any hope of ending his career in the ANZ stadium showpiece.

But Lewis was adamant his former Australia teammate shouldn't face any time on the sidelines for the offence.

"What do you want him to do?" Lewis said.

"He's one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game and you have to stop a try and put your body on the line.

"If someone was to miss a game for something like that, I don't know what our game would be coming to. It's a contact sport.

"I don't think there was anything in it to be honest. If there's anyone I want see play on grand final day, it's Billy Slater."

Lewis and Slater remain close from their time together in Kangaroos camps, and both came into Friday's game with the potential of it being their last if their team lost given their impending retirements.

Slater said after the match he wasn't concerned that he would be charged over the tackle.

"I wasn't worried at the time," Slater said, without having seen a replay.

"When it was a penalty I thought what was the penalty for, but then I realised I got my body in an awkward position.

"It's pretty hard to make a conventional tackle when you're going across at top speed trying to save a try like that ... It was just a collision."

He was also backed by coach Craig Bellamy, who hadn't seen replays when quizzed after the match.

"I didn't think straight away that I'm worried about that," Bellamy said.

"I didn't think there was too much in it from that."

"But having said that I haven't suffered it closely."

If Slater was to be charged, he would follow in the footsteps of captain Cameron Smith who missed the 2008 grand final due to a suspension.

Former South Sydney hooker Issac Luke is the last big name to be ruled out of a grand final at the judiciary after being charged with a dangerous throw in 2014.

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'See what happens' - Storm skipper Cameron Smith could retire after NRL Grand Final

Cameron Smith has hinted he would consider retiring alongside teammate Billy Slater if Melbourne win next week's NRL grand final.

In a puzzling epilogue to Melbourne's 22-6 preliminary final win over Cronulla, the rugby league Immortal-in-waiting admitted retirement wasn't out of the question with a fifth grand final win next Sunday.

Quizzed on whether he was serious about his stance Smith said he still intended on playing on in 2019 but wouldn't rule out changing his mind.

"I don't know, if we were to win it. If we were to go and play well next week, I don't know. You'd consider it," Smith said when asked if there would be a temptation to retire with Slater.

"Maybe. I don't know.

"I don't have a contract for next year yet ... We'll just get through the week first and see what happens."

"Players finish up all the time and new players come in and you start writing about them.

"I've got all intention of going around next year, you guys posed the question to me. If we were to win would you consider it?

"I don't know, we win first and we'll see what happens. At this stage I want to play on.

"Does that clear it up for you? Clear as mud."

The comments come after Smith has long indicated he wanted to play next season after his shock decision to retire from representative football just weeks out from State of Origin earlier this year.

Reports also emerged this week he was close to finalising a deal with the Storm for next year that would likely see him become the first game to reach the 400-game mark.

The old firm of Smith and Slater stood tall on Friday night in their last game together at AAMI Park, combining for the try just before halftime which put the game beyond doubt.

"I was a bit nervous about the outcome (of the preliminary final) for Billy," Smith said.

"This week I've been having small moments to myself on the training paddock where I'm doing extras with Bill.

"I've been thinking I would love another chance to have another week on the paddock with him."

Storm skipper Cameron Smith celebrates his drop goal. Source: Getty


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