NRL 2021: NZ Warriors coaches welcome selection headache, as stars return from injury

NZ Warriors coaches have a welcome selection dilemma on their hands, when they face Manly Sea Eagles on Sunday. 

The return of centre Euan Aitken and halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita sees only Ben Murdoch-Masila, David Fusitu'a, Marcelo Montoya, Pita Hiku and Addin Fonua-Blake unavailable, but due to return in coming weeks. 

Harris-Tavita is back in the mix, after aggravating a stress fracture in his foot during the 20-16 loss to Newcastle in round two, while off-season signing Aitken returns from an ankle injury in the season-opener against Gold Coast Titans.

Both were named in an extended gameday squad of 21 earlier in the week, but outside the playing 17. 

"They have got through the week, they obviously had to have a full week of contact elements," says Warriors assistant coach Justin Morgan. "Both are very much in the frame and we'll make a final decision later on today.

"I think our previous selection meetings have been 'who's fit... OK, so what number is he going to wear'. Now we have a number of players coming back from injury, and key players and players with a good level of experience. 

"It's nice to have an actual discussion around the selection table, rather than seeing who is fit, and giving the physios a quick call to see who is available and slotting them somewhere into the 21."  

Most interest will centre on how coaching staff lay out their spine, with Harris-Tavita back in the mix and young-gun Reece Walsh starring in his first two outings, but Morgan wasn't giving anything away. 

"It does give us a few options," he says. "He [Harris-Tavita] can slot back into his normal role.

"We can play him in a bit more of a utility role, which he's done before. He's played a little bit of hooker at different stages. 

"Obviously, Reece has done an excellent job in the No.6 position, since coming to the club, so it gives us a few different options, and also takes a little bit of the pressure off having a key player come back into the squad and asking him to do so much." 

The Warriors could also welcome back Aitken, who would take much-needed pressure off a young backline that includes rookies Rocco Berry and Edward Kosi. 

"Euan is vastly experienced and showed in the one game he played earlier in the year that he is a tough guy, as he got through the game with a fairly serious injury," says Morgan.

"He has played at the highest level in the NRL for a number of years, that again relieves some of the pressure on the younger players."

The Auckland side will be looking for revenge against the Sea Eagles, after Daly Cherry-Evans slotted a last-gasp field goal for a 13-12 victory in round five. 

"When you lose a game, especially when it's only by one point, you have the sensation that you've had your pocket picked and we weren't at our best that day,' Morgan adds. 

"There is a little bit of 'we owe them one' type of thing, but then again, that doesn't really come into it a huge amount. They're playing some good footy. 

"They have [fullback Tom Trbojevic] back in their team - he adds another dimension to their team, so they'll be tough.

"I'd like to think we are a better footy team now than we were when then, but arguably they are as well." 

The Warriors have dropped Eliesa Katoa and Tom Ale leading into the Sea Eagles clash. This will see Bailey Sironen start in the second row with Jack Murchie joining the bench. 

Join us at 4pm Sunday for live updates of the Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles NRL clash