Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Who Is Eliesa Katoa?

No NRL Warriors footy this weekend sets the scene for some intriguing selections in reserve grade, while the ever-rotating cast of Jersey Flegg lads now includes highly recruited Tongan Eliesa Katoa who will make his Warriors Flegg debut. Both teams come up against their Cronulla Sharks counterparts, with the reserves taking on Newtown Jets who are the Sharks feeder club and Flegg playing Cronulla's Flegg team in Sydney this afternoon.

Here is the team selected by Canterbury Cup coach Nathan Cayless…

Fullback: Adam Pompey.

Wings: Gerard Beale, Taane Milne.

Centres: Hayze Perham, Solomone Kata.

Halves: Adam Keighran, Chanel Harris-Tavita.

Middles: Chris Satae, Sam Lisone, Leivaha Pulu.

Edges: Blake Ayshford, Ligi Sao.

Hooker: Sean Mullany.

Bench: Tyler Slade, Jackson Frei, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Preston Riki/Paulos Latu.

The main bloke I'm interested in is Ligi Sao, who according to the Warriors website will captain the team. Unfortunately for Sao, he played a major role in the Warriors losing to Brisbane Broncos last weekend as Sao covered for an injured Jazz Tevaga, playing more minutes, leading to two penalties and a costly defensive error to open the door for Anthony Milford. It's rough to put that much blame on Sao, yet those are the margins in NRL and with an NRL bye, Sao has a chance to stake his claim for re-selection.

Making Sao captain is a nice little boost and I'm sure NRL coach Stephen Kearney will be watching to see how Sao responds. Named to start on an edge, Sao's mobility and offloading should be an issue for the Jets defence and with Leivaha Pulu apparently out of favour with Kearney, the form of Sao and Satae is important to follow as any NRL selection shake-up will likely involve them.

With Sao starting on an edge, Taane Milne moves from edge to wing in a slightly weird backline shuffle. Milne had 11runs/125m in the last outing (20-6 win over Sea Eagles), a nod to Milne's powerful running game, however with Hayze Perham now being used at centre, Milne now fits the mould of the Warriors NRL wingers. Adam Pompey is named at fullback, having played plenty on the wing this season and as the Warriors are 3-1-6, the shifting of Perham to centre and Pompey to fullback feels like it's a result of searching for the best combinations.

Pompey didn't play fullback last week though, that job went to Paul Turner who is in the halves for the Flegg team. Last week's Canterbury Cup team had four Flegg players in it (Turner, Sean Mullany, Tyler Slade, Phillip Makatoa) which makes that win, against the last placed Sea Eagles slightly more impressive.

Keep in mind that late changes always take place, so things will likely change from the original team list ... like Slade starting with Mullany dropping to the bench. This was the minor tweak for last week's game, most likely because Slade - who started at lock for Flegg consistently - was better suited to the opening exchanges and Mullany is more of a slick dummy half type.

The major note here though is that Mullany and Slade are directly benefitting from Sam Cook's departure and Nathaniel Roache's injury. This is a great development opportunity for these two and Warriors fans should be chuffed with the dummy half depth at Mt Smart.

The last time the Flegg team played, Mullany and Slade were both starting. After two weeks off, a lot has changed and now Temple Kalepo gets his chance to start at hooker in Flegg. Here's the team named by coach Greg Boulous...

Fullback: Emanuel Tuimavave-Gerrard.

Wings: Selestino Ravutaumada, Edward Kosi.

Centres: Ray Tuaimalo-Vaega, Kayal Iro.

Halves: Paul Turner, Sione Moala.

Middles: Junior Pua, Wesley Veikoso, Phillip Makatoa.

Edges: Brody Tamarua, Tom Ale.

Hooker: Temple Kalepo.

Bench: Richard Toa'i, Eliesa Katoa, Isaiah Vagana, Jyris Glamuzina/Michael Lemafa.

Consistent centre Patrick Elia, misses out on selection after starting most games at centre alongside Kayal Iro and this opens the spot up for Ray Tuaimalo-Vaega. Other than that, this is a fairly settled backline with what appears to be the top halves combination in Turner and Sione Moala rolled out. Tom Ale and Phillip Makatoa are both named in the forward pack and headline a rather impressive forward pack who will need to step up against Cronulla who are 1st (Warriors are 9th).

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Finally done ✅

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Eliesa Katoa is named on the bench and after former St Pats Silverstream 1st 15 joker Neyla Masima made his Warriors Flegg debut a few weeks ago, now it's Katoa's turn to slide into Warriors footy. Katoa moved from Tonga to play 1st 15 rugby union at Tamaki College in Auckland, having toured Aotearoa with multiple Tongan age-group teams and as he played flanker/#8 in union, I'm projected Katoa to be a dynamic middle forward in league.

Katoa was highly recruited out of high school by both codes, having been part of the Blues Under 18 training squad last year. Regular readers will know that one of my favourite activities is celebrating the NRL production line of 1st 15 rubgy union and Katoa is the latest Warrior to be served up on a platter by 1st 15 rugby.

Masima and Katoa were the low key major signings for the Warriors from 1st 15 rugby prior to this season. Funnily enough, one of Katoa's comrades in that Blues U18 squad from last year was Ray Tuaimalo-Vaega who was selected from Kelston Boys High School and the stars have aligned for Tuaimalo-Vaega to get a start at centre in the same game that Katoa makes his Warriors Flegg debut.

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Peace and love 27.