NRL: Luke Metcalf wins race for No.6 jersey as NZ Warriors name side for season-opener against Cronulla Sharks

NZ Warriors have named their strongest possible side to open their NRL campaign against Cronulla Sharks on Friday.

Luke Metcalf has won the race to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves, restoring the combination that played together 12 times for 10 wins in 2023.

As expected after Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad's pre-season hamstring injury, Taine Tuaupiki has been named at fullback, and forms a familar back three alongside Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Marcelo Montoya.

Marata Niukore has joined Nicoll-Klokstad in the casualty ward, after foot fracture in the Warriors' pre-season victory over the Dolphins. No word has been given on his return timeline.  

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will start his first NRL game since 2021 after his return to the club, while Rocco Berry is preferred to Adam Pompey on the right edge.

In the forwards, Addin Fonua-Blake starts in the front row, as he begins his final season before moving to the Sharks next season, alongisde Mitchell Barnett, and Wayde Egan at hooker.

New signing Kurt Capewell starts on his Warriors NRL debut, as Jackson Ford keeps his place on the edge, with captain Tohu Harris named at lock.

On the bench, Freddy Lussick has been listed as reserve hooker, while Tom Ale, Bunty Afoa and Dylan Walker will cover the rest of the forwards.

Te Maire Martin has been named on an extended interchange bench, while Chanel Harris-Tavita does not feature, and could be in line to play reserve grade as he returns after a year out of the NRL.  

NZ Warriors: 1-Taine Tuaupiki, 2-Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3-Rocco Berry, 4-Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 5-Marcelo Montoya, 6-Luke Metcalf, 7-Shaun Johnson, 8-Addin Fonua-Blake, 9-Wayde Egan, 10-Mitchell Barnett, 11-Jackson Ford, 12-Kurt Capewell, 13-Tohu Harris (c)

Interchange (from): 14-Freddy Lussick, 15-Tom Ale, 16-Bunty Afoa, 17-Dylan Walker, 18-Adam Pompey, 20-Jazz Tevaga, 21-Te Maire Martin, 22-Ali Leiataua, 23-Jacob Laban