The Warriors are proving to be the NRL's entertainers - on and off the field. Credit: Shane Wenzlick. Copyright: NRL Photos.
There's a lot we can learn from our friends across the ditch – and not just how to play an incredibly exciting brand of football, or how to put on a masterclass in attacking flair, or how to intercept and run the length of the field to score a cracking try (thanks Shaun Johnson). It's what they're doing off the field that's really setting them apart. Like many of their Australian counterparts the Warriors must exist – and try to thrive – in an incredibly competitive market.
New Zealand is a rugby union country through and through – the All Blacks are gods. Their A-League team has a strong following and the basketballing Breakers and netballing Silver Ferns are rock stars in their own right. To attract fans and followers who have been born into other codes... well, the Warriors are doing it differently.
Playing brilliant football isn't enough: General Manager of Commercial Don Mann says they need to attract an audience that doesn't necessarily live and breathe rugby league. What they need to do is attract an audience that is looking for a whole experience: a great atmosphere and an exciting, lively and fun spectacle. A lot of Kiwis don't necessarily know the ins and outs of the NRL – but they know they want to be entertained.
"We can't control the brand of football being played on the field but we can control the experience our fans have off it and that's why we make sure every single match day is unique and exciting," he says.
When you go to a Warriors home game you aren't just going to a stadium to watch rugby league – you are going to a part, where rugby league is only PART of the package.
"We've really amped it up in the past year or so but what we're trying to do is establish a culture that lasts long term. We look at the space in the stadium and use it all – we have "money can't buy" sidelines seats where you get waited on hand and foot in open-top Minis... we have the 'man cave' experience with a pool table, beer fridge and big screen replays... you can win all of these seats via competitions; social media is also a big part of what we do."
And that's just the regular stuff! Just a couple of weeks ago the Warriors played their first home game of the year back at Mount Smart Stadium in their traditional black strip.
"We sat around throwing up ides – 'Back In Black' – and we started thinking ACDC and that turned into rock and mullets... so that was our theme! It absolutely went off, the players had photos digitally altered with mullets added, the fans and costumes were awesome – oh, and beating the Eels 48-nil didn't hurt!" Mann said.
When the Warriors played the Bulldogs back in Round 10 they had an 'aloha' Hawaiian theme. Beach umbrellas... sand pits... the whole shebang! The fans absolutely loved it and the players love it too!
Captain Simon Mannering is a huge supporter of the off-field initiatives. "It's great the way the members and fans get into the game day promotions we've had like the Onesie Party and the Rock Night with the mullets. It all helps to make game days fun for them and as players we really enjoy it, too. It's really good promotion and adds to the excitement at our home games."
Manu Vatuvei agrees: "We've had some awesome promotions around our game days this year. Seeing people get into the onesie theme was pretty cool and the promos for the mullets were really funny."
Players help promote the events via social media – the huge part of connecting directly with fans! Manu used his Instagram account before the Parramatta game: Posting a mullet photo – "What you reckon about my new look? Who's gonna rock the mullet this week #BackInBlack #Rock #Mullet".
He did the same with the onesies ahead of the Brisbane game. He even visited a number of breakfast radio stations delivering onesies to presenters... He put a shout out on Instagram saying: "Who's coming in their onesies?"
Shaun Johnson posted the photoshop mullet shot with the comment: "D E A D". When asked whether or not he actually owned a onesie he said: "Yeah I've got one in my wardrobe. I had to buy it! I'll wear it to the game if I'm allowed. I wear it at home… ah, I shouldn't have said that. Don't tell anyone!"
We won't tell a soul! Congratulations New Zealand Warriors: you are doing a great job of growing this great game across the ditch, and long may it continue!