Via Warriors Media
The name Ali is back on the One New Zealand Warriors’ first-grade team sheet for the first time in 19 years with centre Ali Leiataua handed his NRL debut in Friday night’s 15th-round clash against the Raiders at GIO Stadium in Canberra (6.00pm kick-off local time; 8.00pm NZT).
The nephew of the legendary Ali Lauitiiti, Leiataua has been brought in to replace Rocco Berry who has been ruled out after being concussed early in Saturday night’s 30-8 win over the Dolphins.
It’s the only change to the 17-man squad used on Saturday night with Dylan Walker ruled out for the third week running with a fractured toe.
The 20-year-old Leiataua has been in outstanding form for the club’s New South Wales Cup side throughout the season, scoring nine tries in 13 appearances including two superb efforts in Saturday’s 22-24 loss to South Sydney.
NZ Warriors tries vs Rabbitohs in NSW Cup
— The Niche Cache (@thenichecache) June 3, 2023
Averaging 136 metres a game, he has made nine line-breaks along with six try assists and 51 tackle breaks.
In the club’s system since he was 14, Leiataua was a foundation member of the One New Zealand Warriors’ first SG Ball Cup under-18 side in 2020. While based in Redcliffe with the Warriors last season, he scored 13 tries in 13 appearances for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Queensland Rugby League colts’ competition.
His sister Onjeurlina was in the Warriors’ first NRLW team in 2018 and again in 2019 while his uncle Ali (Warrior #55) played 115 times for the Warriors from 1998-2004.
The trip to Canberra will be a night for milestones with Leiataua becoming Warrior #282 on the same day Raiders centre Jarrod Croker plays his 300th match, the 48th player to do so in the competition’s history.
There are three other key achievements for One New Zealand Warriors players with back rower Josh Curran making his 50th career appearance while prop Addin Fonua-Blake and winger Marcelo Montoya bring up their 50th games for the club.
The Warriors and Canberra go into Friday night’s match separated by just one place and one win on the table. The Raiders sit sixth on 18 points with an 8-5 record while the Warriors are seventh on 16 points with a 7-6 return.