Warriors forwards suffer serious injuries

Daniel Gilhooly
The Warriors will be without regular starting forward Bunty Afoa for at least a month

The loss of Bunty Afoa and Tohu Harris for at least a month isn't a killer blow to the Warriors' NRL hopes, says coach Stephen Kearney.

Both starting forwards limped out of last week's 18-15 loss to Cronulla, a result which demoted the Warriors to fifth and swung the spotlight onto the club's forward depth.

Kearney is confident that the pair can be covered, starting with Friday's match against Penrith, at a Panthers Stadium venue where they've not won in six years.

Adam Blair returns from suspension at lock, pushing fellow-veteran Simon Mannering to the edge to replace Harris, who will undergo surgery on a meniscus tear in his knee. He is expected back in four to six weeks.

Ligi Sao is promoted to the interchange bench in place to cover Afoa, whose elbow dislocation rules him out for six weeks.

Sao started at lock in the team's first four matches - all won.

"We're comfortable," Kearney said.

"Tohu and Bunty had been doing a really good job for us but the guys who will be going into their positions are more than capable."

Further injury could leave the Warriors susceptible.

They released prop Albert Vete last week and chose not to replace him before the transfer deadline.

Kearney said another big man who hasn't fired this year, Sam Lisone, shapes as a key figure over coming weeks.

He said Lisone was showing signs of emerging from a form slump that resulted in his dropping to reserve grade after 10 modest outings, mostly off the bench.

"Sam, by his own standards, probably hasn't played up to what we expect of him," Kearney said.

"There were guys who pushed in front of him who were doing a pretty good job. But he's a quality player and I'm sure he'll play a part over the back end of the year."

Second-rower Leivaha Pulu is also nearing a return, having suffered injury in round six.

Kearney was able to name his strongest backline, with big wingers David Fusitu'a (ankle) and Ken Maumalo (rested) both having missed the Cronulla loss, their fifth of the season.