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Papali'i to make Warriors debut in opener

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 1/03/2017 Angelo Risso

Warriors young gun Isaiah Papali'i will be let loose on the Knights defence in Sunday's NRL opener in Auckland.

The 18-year-old forward, named on the Warriors' extended bench, was confirmed as a member of the matchday XVII by coach Stephen Kearney on Wednesday.

He played both rugby league for the junior Warriors and rugby for his school in 2016, before making the step up to NRL football in the off-season.

The Auckland native and ex-Oceania youth powerlifting champion has since been deployed in the side's trials against Melbourne and Gold Coast, scoring a try and impressing in a 26-6 win over the Titans.

"Isaiah came on for Ryan (Hoffman) last week when Ryan got injured early and played out the game, he's an impressive young man," Kearney said.

"I gave him the opportunity to get a job done and he's done it really well."

Papali'i's will play against last year's wooden-spooners regardless of the condition of second-rower Bodene Thompson, who Kearney said was touch-and-go with an ankle issue.

If the 28-year-old does make the matchday squad, he will play limited minutes.

"He had a full week last week, a session on Monday and again today, it's a matter of how he pulls up," Kearney said.

"He works pretty hard (so) it's more if he can get through with his ankle."

It's been eight years since the Warriors opened their season with a win, but the Auckland-based side can be encouraged by their strong home record against Newcastle.

The Warriors have won 10 of their last 11 contests against the Knights at Mount Smart Stadium, including last year's 40-18 whitewash.

Yet Kearney warned against underestimating a youthful Knights team, which limped to just one win and one draw in 2016.

"(Coach) Nathan Brown made a conscious decision last year to blood young guys and give young guys a run, and they're 12 months better," Kearney said.

Off-contract playmaker Shaun Johnson, who is yet to sign a new deal with the club, likewise warned against comparing the Knights of 2016 and 2017.

They'd be equally keen to start their season on the right note.

"We can't do any video on them, can we?" Johnson said.

"They're just like us, excited to play and working just as hard."

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