Former teammates Tim Simona and Blake Ayshford will mark-up on the edge this Sunday in what will be one of a number of exciting battles at Mt Smart Stadium.
The pair played 17 NRL games together at Wests Tigers before Ayshford departed for the Cronulla Sharks at the end of the 2013 season.
Ayshford spent two seasons at the Sharks before moving to the New Zealand Warriors at the start of this year, which has sparked a strong run of form that resulted in him playing all but one match for Andrew McFadden’s side in 2016.
On the other hand, Simona has been strong in recent weeks and despite not crossing the line since Round 17, the Samoan International has made over 100 metres in all four of his past outings.
The classy speedster has missed just three matches himself due to a suspension earlier in the year and is a chance to surpass his own record for most games in a season (20 in 2015) should he play the final two regular season matches.
If the earlier meeting between these two sides is anything to go by, expect plenty of points on Sunday, with the 60-point Round 1 match showcasing the attacking prowess that both team's possess.
Both Wests Tigers and the Warriors have everything to play for this week, with the loser of the match to be officially ruled out for finals contention, so look out for an intense battle between Simona and Ayshford.
It’s not the only backline showdown set to light-up Mt Smart Stadium, with Kevin Naiqama and Solomone Kata set to do battle on the opposite side, as well an enthralling halves battle between Luke Brooks and Shaun Johnson.
Simona and Ayshford have only played against each other just once in their NRL careers; the 2016 season opener where Wests Tigers recorded a 34-26 victory at Campbelltown.
Ayshford has played against Wests Tigers just once more since his departure, during the 2014 season while he was Cronulla, with the Sharks going down 26-10 at Leichhardt Oval.
On the other hand, Simona has played the Warriors five times previously, scoring five tries and winning three of those games.
The only game that Simona hasn’t scored in while playing against the Warriors was when he started from the interchange bench in the 2011 match at Mt Smart Stadium.
Ayshford faces new-look Wests Tigers…
While Ayshford comes up against his former side on Sunday, only seven Wests Tigers players named this week have played an NRL match alongside him.
From this weekend’s team, only David Nofoaluma, Simona, Aaron Woods, Sauaso Sue, Chris Lawrence, Ava Seumanufagai and Dene Halatau have played with Ayshford before his departure in 2013.
Look out for a few close mates to leave their friendships on the sideline for 80 minutes, with former Wests Tigers forwards Bodene Thompson and James Gavet also among the Warriors line-up.
What he said…
“I’ve been finding some form against the Warriors especially,” Simona said “But I’m just looking forward to putting in my best efforts and making sure I have a good game.
“I just want to help get the boys over the line this week because our last game against Penrith was a disappointing one.
“I was good mates with Aysh (Blake Ayshford) when he was at Wests Tigers so it will be good to mark up against him and see where I’m at.
“I’ve been finding form and I feel like I’m playing good footy at the moment, so it will be good to see how I go against someone like Aysh who is a good defensive centre.
“Aysh has been killing it for the Warriors, he has really found some form, so it will be a really good match-up for me this weekend; I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I was marking Aysh earlier in the year, in the first half of the match against the Warriors in Round 1, I know he is a good quality player and I'm looking forward to coming up against him again on Sunday,” he said.