NRL: Junior Warriors help deliver top combo title to Mt Smart

By Michael Brown

John Ackland. Photo / Kenny Rodger
John Ackland. Photo / Kenny Rodger

The Warriors' future looks bright if the Junior Warriors are any guide.

John Ackland's side still have a chance to claim the NYC minor premiership - they need South Sydney to slip up against the Dragons today - and have the potential to take out the title.

Yesterday they thrashed the Eels 52-6, their 10th win in their last 11 games, to confirm their status as the form team. It also delivered the overall club championship to Mt Smart Stadium for the best combined club - seniors and juniors - for the first time.

The Junior Warriors and Canberra are the only teams to make the playoffs in each of the first three years of the Toyota Cup competition.

They probably should have won the title in the first year but stumbled late against Brisbane in the preliminary final.

They now need to win at least three more matches to claim the title and are confident playing away from home after recording five wins in 10 games (four in their last five) away from Mt Smart Stadium.

"We have as much chance as everyone else," says Ackland, who switched roles with Tony Iro at the start of the season after four seasons as Ivan Cleary's assistant. "If we continue to play well, we are going to go OK.

"I don't think any sides have really beaten us yet.

"There hasn't been a time when I have left the ground thinking, 'we were outclassed today'," says Ackland. "Most of the time when we lost, it was because we were off."

That happened mostly in the early rounds of the season. They didn't collect their first win until round five and conceded half of their points in the first six weeks of the competition.

In the end, they easily registered the best defensive record in the competition, as well as the best points differential.

"We had to tighten our defence," Ackland says. "Once we got that sorted we were on our way because we have a lot of boys who are hard to tackle."

There is a good balance to the Junior Warriors. Not only is there a mixture of ages - you don't want too many 20-year-olds in any one year because it will prove difficult to fill the holes the following year - but they also have fire-power across the side.

Glen Fisiiahi has provided speed and flair from fullback, rugby union convert Ivan Penehe has been excellent at centre, Nafe Seluini provides impetus from dummy half, captain Ben Henry is one of the competition's top tacklers and wing Bill Tupou has been top-class when returning from the NRL squad.

It has meant promising five-eighth Shaun Johnson hasn't had to be at the top of his game, while the long-term injury to Elijah Taylor didn't prove too disruptive.

- Herald on Sunday

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