Raymond Faitala-Mariner, David Fusitua, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Solomone Kata and Tuimoala Lolohea may not be household names anywhere other than their own households but Broncos forward Todd Lowrie believes they are the Warriors' secret weapons ahead of this weekend's inaugural Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines.
Lowrie was granted compassionate leave to leave the Warriors at the end of the 2013 season after one season of a two-year deal but saw enough in his time at the club to know the home side deserve to be among the favourites to become the first Auckland Nines champions.
Named in a near full-strength Broncos squad of 18, Lowrie believes the depth of talent in the Warriors ranks – including international superstars Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins – makes them the team to beat.
"Obviously the Warriors are going to be pretty strong," Lowrie said. "I know their side pretty well and even young blokes that a lot of you guys probably haven't heard of I've had a fair bit to do with and they've got some freakish talents in their side.
"I know they're taking it very seriously so they'll certainly be one to watch but apart from that you just don't know, and I think that's the good thing about it. It's a bit of the unknown for everybody; players, staff and fans so there could be some surprise packets and hopefully we're one of them."
Ben Barba's first game for his new club will ironically be against the Bulldogs in their opening pool clash on Saturday while World Cup stars Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, Josh Hoffman and Alex Glenn have all been named to play. New recruits Stewart Mills and Martin Kennedy get a further chance to shine while youngsters Kodi Nikorima and Joe Ofahengaue have also been included in the 18.
"We've put in a strong team; I think it's a really strong side. It's probably the best side we could field I think which is good to have everyone available and we should give it a good crack," said Lowrie, with the injured Justin Hodges and Jordan Kahu the only players unavailable for selection.
"We've gone with a pretty experienced side – there are only a few guys in there that haven't played too much NRL. Unlike some other teams that have put a bunch of young blokes in, most of our guys have played a fair bit of NRL. Guys like Joe Ofahengaue and Kodi Nikorima are a couple of young blokes who could step up.
"I didn't realise [Joe] was so young, I thought he was about 23! He's only 18 I think. He's a good kid, he's fast and strong and big and got all the attributes you need so hopefully he gets some game time and goes really well."
The 18 Broncos players who will travel to Auckland participated in an opposed training session of nine-on-nine on Tuesday morning, their first taste of the kind of space they can expect to be playing with when their game against the Bulldogs kicks off at 1.50pm NZ time on Saturday.
"Apart from the obvious [difference] you've just got to work a bit harder in defence and fill in the spaces," Lowrie said of what the players can expect. "I don't think anyone really knows how it's going to play out so the first couple of games should be good.
"It's easier when you've only got to touch them [during training] but when you've got to tackle them it's going to make it a bit more difficult.
"I think that's going to be a big part of it, the communication, particularly on the inside when you're filling the space in defence. Communication is going to be a big part of it. Hopefully our fitness shows through."Latest Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines teams