Most league fans would only know him as the bloke sandwiched between Origin stars Ryan and David Stagg in the Bulldogs’ back row. But there is much more to this hard-working forward from the country.
By his own admission, Warburton is far from a flashy player. Even as a kid he says he was “never outstanding”. It was that assessment of himself that led Warburton to be the player he is today – a workhorse straight out of the mould of Steve Folkes.
He is the embodiment of the Bulldogs pack’s tough reputation: they never stop coming at you – and that’s just what coach Kevin Moore wants from his anonymous back-rower.
“I was never an outstanding player when I was a kid, that’s why I just got through my work,” Warburton explains. “I didn’t really make rep teams, I just played for my division and that was it.
“Basically, I just tried to do my work and get through what the coach wants me to do. I leave all the fancy stuff for the quick, outside backs… I’m too slow for all that.”
Modest, laidback and affable, Warburton epitomises the typical country footballer.
He grew up in Griffith in the south-west of New South Wales, spending his days down at the river with mates, just mucking around.
Warburton played soccer from an early age, but the pull of rugby league was always stronger and at 12 he changed sports.
Then came the biggest move, the one that would eventually launch his career. The Warburton family decided they’d had enough of the dust bowl of the west, and moved to Ulladulla on the south coast.
The Milton-Ulladulla junior quickly found a rugby league team, aptly called the Bulldogs.
Every weekend he would watch former NRL Bulldogs Glenn and Steven Hughes run around in first grade for his local side. The pair are, of course, brothers of former Dog and now Shark Corey Hughes.
Their uncle Mark was the recruitment manager at the Bulldogs and when he came down to watch his nephews play, could not help but be impressed by a wiry but strong forward.
“He came and watched me a few times and I got to meet him and it evolved from there,” Warburton explains.
“It was exciting, everyone in the whole team would go ‘oh there’s Mark Hughes’ and that sort of stuff. He only came down a couple of times but he got to meet a few of us and I came up here the year after.”
Despite the initial misgivings every young footy player from the country goes through when they first move to the city to pursue their sport, Warburton quickly found a home at the Bulldogs.
With the support of his two older sisters, who he still lives with in Sydney, Warburton has gone from talented country kid to a genuine NRL competitor. But once again he found himself fighting just a couple of games into his Bulldogs career.
“It was tough at first, but I was lucky I had my two sisters… they sort of mothered me a bit,” Warburton smiles.
“I started off in Jersey Flegg and then I did my knee so I only played two games and was out for the season. But I came back the year after and played most of the year in Flegg under Barry Ward.”
The resolve to return after suffering a huge setback so early is what defines Warburton, and is the reason why, amongst the stars now filling up their bank books, he is very close to signing a new deal with the Bulldogs.
“That’s the kind of guy he is… a no-nonsense type, he just wants to get out there and do the job for the team,” Ryan says.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in the back row, like Greg Eastwood and David Stagg coming on board. At the start of the season we also had Lee Te Maari and Nick Kouparitsas and he got the jump over them so I’m sure the coaching staff is just happy for him to go out there and do his job every week.
“He certainly hasn’t let anyone down.”