NRL football is returning to Hamilton with the Warriors announcing they will take on Penrith in their first home-based 2013 preseason trial at Waikato Stadium on Saturday, February 16.
It's the only trial the Warriors will play in the North Island ahead of their 2013 NRL campaign with the club's third and final build-up match against Brisbane set down for Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday, February 23.
The Waikato Stadium match will have special significance for new head coach Matthew Elliott. It will be his first in charge in front of Warriors members and fans on New Zealand soil.
"It's going to be really exciting taking our club to Hamilton for what will be an important trial for us ahead of the NRL season," he said.
"As it's a trial, we'll have a chance to look at options as well as getting a good line on how we're tracking in terms of our preparation.
"We've got plenty of work in front of us first but I'm already looking forward to the game at Waikato Stadium. It'll be a big night for everyone, for our team and especially for our members and fans."
Warriors general manager of football operations Dean Bell said the trial provided a great opportunity for the club to connect with a region renowned for its strong support and production of rugby league talent.
"We've got so many members and fans from Waikato and nearby areas like Bay of Plenty and Thames Valley who travel to our games in Auckland.
Now they will have the chance to see the Warriors much closer to home," he said.
"It's also close enough for supporters from Auckland to make the trip. We're certainly hoping people turn out in big numbers at a time when the NRL season will be just a few weeks away.
"The Waikato area is equally important to us in terms of the playing talent produced there.
"We have Sam and Steve Rapira, who hail from Hamilton, in our squad and a number of others from the region have been involved in our system."
The trial will mark the Warriors' first visit to Hamilton since their 2009 trial against the Melbourne Storm. The club played Parramatta in NRL 'away' games at Waikato Stadium in 2005 and 2006 and has also had trial matches at the ground previously.
Confirmation of the match rounds out the Vodafone Warriors' 2013 trial programme which will start with a hit-out against Gold Coast in Burleigh on Saturday, February 9.
Apart from the locally-produced Rapira brothers being in line to play, the Hamilton trial could also mark debut outings for new Warriors signings Dane Nielsen and Todd Lowrie, who are joining the club after their NRL premiership success with Melbourne.
Halfback Thomas Leuluai could be in contention for his first appearance for the club in more than eight years, the 2003-2004 Warrior returning home after so much success with Wigan in the English Super League.
There will be some interesting side-lines surrounding the match, one of which sees the current Warriors head coach pitted against former head coach Ivan Cleary (and the current Penrith coach against an ex-coach).
The Panthers include 84-game 2009-2012 Warrior Lewis Brown and front rower Jeremy Latimore, who has been signed from St George Illawarra after 24 appearances for the Warriors in 2010-2011.
Other additions to the Penrith squad include Kiwi internationals Sika Manu (Melbourne) and Dean Whare (Manly), North Queensland's James Segeyaro and Newcastle's Wes Naiqama.
The Panthers have made plans to spend five days in camp in Hamilton for the trial.
Warriors - 2013 NRL Trials
Saturday, February 9 v Gold Coast, Burleigh
Saturday, February 16 v Penrith, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday, February 23 v Brisbane, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin