THE feeling that Krisnan Inu may have been a touch hard done by in being axed for Saturday's opening finals match against the Broncos at Suncorp isn't limited to a section of vocal Warriors fans.
Manu Vatuvei, the player who has replaced the unfortunate Inu, admits to feeling "gutted" for his oft-maligned but extravagantly skilled teammate.
He turned in two sparkling performances after being recalled from the wilderness when Vatuvei was sidelined with an arm injury in round 25, however it wasn't enough to earn Inu a finals berth ahead of the returning Vatuvei or impressive youngster Bill Tupou.
"Kris did a really awesome job and I'm pretty gutted I had to come back in and he had to sit out," Vatuvei said. "Especially in these tough games, he plays really well. He does everything right. So I've got to give him one back and play really good for him. I've got to play my best and always think that he is playing with me."
Vatuvei's return was never in doubt, however the retention of Tupou on the right wing has been a bone of contention with radio talkback callers and in internet chat rooms.
The prevailing feeling is that Inu - who was omitted for the opening match of the season and then dropped mid-season despite solid enough form - is more likely to prove a match-winner and is more sound under the high ball.
Coach Ivan Cleary declined to address the issue.
"I'm not going to do that," Cleary said. "I don't think it is fair on the players to justify selection. You can only pick 17 guys and I picked a side as a team I think will give us the best chance to win."
Vatuvei has struggled to reach peak form since suffering a nasty knee injury in round one against Parramatta at Eden Park. At times he has looked short of a gallop, however Cleary believes the issue has been more wear and tear and he expects the giant winger to have benefited from his latest lay-off.
"He was having a few issues with his hamstrings and his knee has been an issue most of the year," Cleary said. "Having an arm injury has allowed him to do all the running and stuff you probably couldn't do when you play every weekend and get banged up. It is pretty obvious when you watch him play there are no soft collisions. He is looking really good at the moment so hopefully he will be better."
Vatuvei backed that assessment, insisting he was raring to go.
"[The break] was kind of good timing in a way but I hate sitting on the sideline," he said. "But I'm feeling fit and fresh and hopefully it shows during the game."
Vatuvei's presence for what could well be a sudden-death match is sure to give his teammates a lift. One of the club's most experienced players despite being just 25, he is now comfortable in a leadership role.
"For sure. I always try to lead all the time. I'm not a very vocal person. I kind of lead with my actions so hopefully I play a really good game and the boys are pumped up by it.
"We've just got to go out there and prove to ourselves we can win against the tough teams. The last game we had against [the Broncos] was a good test. We were pretty disappointed with the loss but that is part of the game.
"We're confident this time."
Hooker Aaron Heremaia is managing the arm injury that ruled him out of the final regular season match against the Cowboys, while centre Shaun Berrigan's place is subject to a fitness test on his hip. Lewis Brown will travel with the side as cover.
Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Bulldogs forward Greg Eastwood were the big name omissions from the Kiwis train-on squad named yesterday.
Both are unavailable for tests against the Cook Islands and Australia and the Four Nations through injury.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.