The Warriors will warm up for their 2011 campaign with three preseason trials, all of which will be played in New Zealand on consecutive weekends in February.
In their first trial in Rotorua on February 12, the Ivan Cleary-coached Warriors will take on the Parramatta Eels, a preview of the clash between the same two sides when they meet in the opening round of the 2011 NRL season on the weekend of March 11-14.
Special points of interest will be the possibility of new signings Feleti Mateo and Krisnan Inu going head-to-head with their former Parramatta team-mates while Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney, who has just joined the Eels this week after last weekend’s Four Nations triumph, will be starting his career as an NRL head coach next season.
The Warriors will travel north to Whangarei for their second trial where they’ll meet Queensland Cup side the Burleigh Bears at Toll Stadium on February 19. The Bears’ home ground has been a regular training venue for the Warriors ahead of away encounters with the Gold Coast Titans.
The trials programme will be rounded out on February 26 on familiar territory at North Harbour Stadium, which has been a traditional preseason venue for the Warriors for many years now. As they did in the run-in to the 2010 season, the Warriors will again take on the Manly Sea Eagles in this trial; it’s the only chance rugby league followers will have to see the Sea Eagles play the Warriors as the only regular season meeting between the two is scheduled for Brookvale Oval).
Cleary said the trials schedule suited the club’s needs.
“We’re happy to have just two trials against NRL opposition while having a third trial against Burleigh will give us a chance to look at different options as well,” he said.
“It also suits us to have all three trials at home rather than going to Australia for one, which has usually been the case. It means the public will have more opportunities to see the Warriors ahead of the NRL season starting, and we’ll also be playing at new venue (Whangarei).”
Early this year the Warriors beat the Sydney Roosters 26-8 in Rotorua and had a 28-6 victory against North Queensland in Cairns before drawing their final trial 16-16 with Manly at North Harbour Stadium.
The John Ackland-coached Junior Warriors, 42-28 victors over South Sydney in this year’s NYC grand final, will play in the curtain-raisers to each of the NRL team’s trials.
They’ll meet Wellington schoolboys in Rotorua, they’ll also join the NRL side in Whangarei and will have a hit-out against the Auckland Vulcans at North Harbour Stadium, a match which will also be a trial for the Vulcans ahead of their New South Wales Cup season. With both Warriors teams on the road to Rotorua and Whangarei as well as playing at North Harbour Stadium, fans in all three regions will be able to connect with all players while the two trophies the club won this year will also be on display – the Toyota Cup for winning the NYC premiership and the NRL’s overall Club Championship, which the Warriors snared for the first time.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are basing themselves on Auckland’s North Shore for their off-season and preseason training programme over the next few months. The squad started work this week, using the Millennium Institute of Sport and Health plus North Harbour Stadium as their principal training venues.
Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said preparations for next week’s U2 concerts, the Big Day Out in January and other concert plans at Mount Smart Stadium had resulted in the club’s NRL squad moving off site.
“There’s a lot of pressure on facilities at Mount Smart so it made sense for us to look for alternative training venues. There’s been great co-operation from all parties in making this possible,” he said.
“We’ll be back home in February or maybe early March ahead of the season starting but we’re pleased we’ve been able to secure fantastic facilities at the Millennium Institute and North Harbour Stadium.”
When the Warriors assembled to begin their off-season work this week, they did so without the club’s five Four Nations-winning Kiwis Lance Hohaia, Manu Vatuvei, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino and Lewis Brown.
In all eight new faces feature in their wider NRL training squad. Linking up with their new club for the first time since leaving Parramatta were Tongan captain Mateo and Inu, a member of the Kiwis’ 2008 World Cup-winning squad, while former Junior Warrior Steve Rapira, younger brother of experienced Kiwi prop Sam, is back at the Warriors after a two-year stint with North Queensland.
While those three players have arrived looking to extend their NRL careers, the other newcomers to the squad are striving to crack first grade for the first time.
Among those in that category are fullback Glen Fisiiahi, centre/wing Ivan Penehe and second rower Matt Robinson who were all in the Junior Warriors’ 2010 NYC premiership-winning squad but are ineligible for the grade next year. Fisiiahi and Robinson both played in the NYC grand final win against South Sydney but injury sidelined Penehe, a rugby union convert, who had impressed in the 15 games he featured in earlier in the campaign. Fisiiahi also excelled for the Junior Kiwis in their two-match series against the Junior Kangaroos last month, as did Bill Tupou and Shaun Johnson, who were both in the Warriors’ wider NRL squad last season.
The other new players included in the 2011 training group are halfback Pita Godinet and 20-year-old forward Saulala Houma. Godinet was named the Auckland Vulcans’ Player of the Year and was also included in the New South Wales Cup Team of the Year while Houma was voted the Resident Player of the Year at the recent New Zealand Rugby League Awards following his efforts for the champion Auckland side in the 2010 national competition. Godinet and Houma have both been signed on preseason contracts similar to the one Aaron Heremaia had before being signed permanently ahead of the 2009 season.
Several of the 2011 NRL squad have played representative football in recent weeks. Brown, Hohaia, Mannering, Matulino and Vatuvei were all involved in the Kiwis’ successful Four Nations campaign while Fisiiahi, Johnson and Tupou were in the Junior Kiwis. Mateo, Sione Lousi and Ukuma Ta’ai played for Tonga against Toa Samoa; Godinet turned out for the Samoans against Tonga and the Kiwis; Heremaia, Kevin Locke and Russell Packer (as well as Brown) appeared for the New Zealand Maori against England; and Micheal Luck and James Maloney were in the Prime Minister’s XIII which beat Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.
Included in the 34-man squad, as he was in 2010, is Junior Warriors captain Ben Henry, who’s still eligible for the NYC in 2011.
The full squad is:
Lewis Brown, Glen Fisiiahi, James Gavet, Pita Godinet, Ben Henry, Aaron Heremaia, Lance Hohaia, Saulala Houma, Krisnan Inu, Isaac John, Shaun Johnson, Jeremy Latimore, Jacob Lillyman, Kevin Locke, Sione Lousi, Micheal Luck, James Maloney, Simon Mannering, Alehana Mara, Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Joel Moon, Russell Packer, Ivan Penehe, Upu Poching, Sam Rapira, Steve Rapira, Matt Robinson, Jerome Ropati, Brett Seymour, Ukuma Ta'ai, Elijah Taylor, Bill Tupou, Manu Vatuvei.
WARRIORS – 2011 TRIALS
Saturday, February 12 - International Stadium, Rotorua
3.00pm: Junior Warriors v Wellington Schoolboys
5.00pm: Warriors v Parramatta Eels
Pre-purchase tickets by February 11, 2011 and save $5 per ticket or even more with family passes. Tickets will be available from Ticketmaster outlets – 0800 111 999 or http://www.ticketmaster.co.nz/
Saturday, February 19 – Toll Stadium, Whangarei
3.00pm: Junior Warriors v TBC
5.00pm: Warriors v Burleigh Bears
Tickets will be available from Ticket Direct (http://www.ticketdirect.co.nz/ or 0800 4 TICKET) and Toll Stadium reception from mid-December. Grandstand: $15, Adult: $10, Child or Terraces and Embankment: $10 Adult, $5 Child. There are also hospitality options available for corporate and public guests.
Saturday, February 26 – North Harbour Stadium, Albany
4.00pm: Junior Warriors v Auckland Vulcans
6.00pm: Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles
Tickets will be available from Ticketek early next year (http://www.ticketek.co.nz/ or 0800 842 538)