Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors still aim at goal

After a season to forget, the Auckland-based club refocus on big ambitions, writes Michael Burgess.

A season that promised so much ended in despair and embarrassment for the Warriors. Photo /  Greg Bowker
A season that promised so much ended in despair and embarrassment for the Warriors. Photo / Greg Bowker

It is hard to recall a steeper fall from grace than the Warriors of 2012. It's only a moment in time but right now the picture at Mt Smart is not pretty.

The coaching saga has become protracted and public and will be probably be held up in future sports marketing and management courses as a prime example of how not to go about replacing a coach.

Stalwarts Micheal Luck and James Maloney have left the club, others such as Sam Rapira, Kevin Locke and Jerome Ropati have ongoing injury issues. And some of the stars of the future - like Shaun Johnson - notably lost form and finesse in the second half of the season.

Meanwhile, Krisnan Inu, who was unwanted in Auckland, has starred for the Bulldogs in the charge to the minor premiership and grand final. While that may mostly be a reflection of Inu's propensity for "'rocks and diamonds", it still doesn't reflect well on the Auckland club.

Just over 12 months ago, the club was preparing for grand finals in all three grades; this year, the NRL side finished 14th, the Vulcans missed the finals and the Junior Warriors crashed out with consecutive playoff losses.

It was all meant to be so different. After Owen Glenn was unveiled as the new owner in a joint venture with Eric Watson in March, the two men returned to Auckland in mid-July to unveil their grand vision for the club.

The owners announced they would invest "whatever it takes" over the next five years in initiatives designed to take the club and the sport to "levels never seen before".

Back in March, Glenn and Watson had outlined their goal to make the Warriors the most successful club in the NRL but four months later, the stakes were even higher, the ambitions even greater.

"We want this club to become the best single sporting franchise in Australasia, taking it to levels never seen before in this part of the world," said Watson.

"Everyone involved in the Warriors and in league should be more excited about the future than ever.

" We definitely are."

At the same press conference, chairman Bill Wavish said fans could look forward to "an era of unprecedented growth in the club's on-field success, profile and community presence".

They are not that easy to recall amid the carnage of the last few months but among the initiatives announced were the formation of a Warriors charitable trust, plans for an elite academy and the upgrading of training, sports science, medical, talent identification, IT and other team support facilities.

Watson and Glenn also discussed a Warriors championship for Auckland secondary schools 1st XIIIs and significant involvement in grassroots rugby league, an increased merchandise range and the establishment of the club's first Warriors shop.

At the moment, most of these goals seem a long way away. The club hierarchy is putting most of its energy into recruiting the "best available coach" and significant amounts of time are also spent on recruitment and scouting as the Auckland side hopes to develop a complete roster in 2013.

On the positive side, the club still has a solid base of corporate support and managed to attract several new sponsors and partners in 2012.

They remain comfortably No1 across the NRL in terms of merchandise sales and that figure is only expected to grow and the Warriors continue to make further inroads into the Australian market.

Their crowd support dwindled massively over the second half of the season but still ranks mid-range across the competition.

Facilities are an issue, especially in terms of training facilities and medical, sports science, recovery and rehabilitation and they are said to be in the middle to lower quartet in that sphere.

"Despite the difficult year we have had on the field we are still placed to achieve the goals that were talked about [in July]," says Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah.

"This club has a record of bouncing back after difficult times in the past and there is no reason to believe we can't do it again."

- Herald on Sunday

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