Young Warriors urged to seize opportunity
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden has conceded that he will spend the off-season trying to decipher how to take success at under-20s level into the top grade after he watched the Junior Warriors claim a third National Youth Competition crown at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
While the senior side has qualified for the finals just twice in the past six seasons the NYC team has been a constant finals participant, winning three titles and finishing runners up to the Panthers in 2013.
Talent such as Shaun Johnson, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell and Ngani Laumape has emerged from the under-20s competition to become regular first-graders but team success has been more elusive, something McFadden hopes to address as quickly as possible.
"It starts with the environment that I set. We've obviously got a very good junior base in Auckland and New Zealand in particular and we do have a lot of talent coming through and nurturing that talent is important. We've got to set the right example at the top," McFadden told NRL.com.
"We want to have a really strong development pathway for our juniors but it starts at the top. We've got to get that environment right at the top then these guys will come through naturally because there's a lot of talent there."
Of the team that defeated the Broncos 34-32 last Sunday – having led 34-6 midway through the second half – co-captain Sam Lisone, Jack Gibson Medal winner Solomone Kata and interchange forward Ken Maumalo will join the senior squad over the off-season while five-eighth Tuimoala Lolohea has already made his NRL debut in 2014.
It's an impressive injection of youth but rather than being overawed by the step up in class, McFadden is insistent that they build a compelling case for inclusion when the time comes to pick the team for Round 1.
"I want them to go out and take it. I want them to stand out at training and not wait," said McFadden, whose squad in 2015 will also include Ryan Hoffman from the Storm and Canberra's Matt Allwood.
"Young guys can sit back but I want the guys that are going to go out there and try and stand out at training and take a spot. I want a really competitive environment all the time so I expect them to contribute at a decent level.
"Sam will come up, Tui has been there all season, Solomone Kata will be coming full-time next year, Ken Maumalo, they're the main ones and we're pretty excited about those guys. They're pretty talented and it will be good to have a full pre-season with them.
"One of Sam's defining characteristics is he's hungry for it, he really wants it. You can see that in the way he plays and that's the sort of people we want in our organisation. He certainly doesn't take for granted the opportunity that he's got and I know that he'll make the most of it."
During the course of 2014 Lolohea has played three NRL games, most of the year in the VB NSW Cup and then rejoined the under-20s for their run to the finals, the win helping to erase the painful memories of their defeat 12 months earlier.
"It's a different experience to being in the 20s to being in a first grade environment," Lolohea said. "These guys are good blokes around here and it's good to have a laugh with some people the same age as you so it's been good coming down with these guys and I'll never forget this moment.
"Stacey (Jones, Warriors coach) has been a huge factor for me. He's emphasised for me to run the ball more and gets into my ear all the time saying, 'Run the ball, run the ball, you'll do damage' so that's one thing I've taken from Stacey, my running game."