Dane Nielsen, the Warriors' star recruit, makes his debut in an NRL trial against Penrith at Hamilton this evening as the club sets about wiping away the 2012 horrors. The big State of Origin centre, aged 27, won the 2012 title with Melbourne, and Warriors fans hope he can bring some Storm ethos to Auckland. Nielsen, who hails from the small city of Mackay 1000km north of Brisbane, chats with the Herald.
You've just played for the Indigenous team in the All Stars game ...
It was my first time and very special for me. I was very proud to be part of the Indigenous team - we were in camp for 10 days and the first few days were purely about learning our heritage and culture, which was a real eye opener. There is a massive difference in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia, a lot of issues such as health. We did a lot of stuff in the community, for indigenous and non-indigenous people. I love doing that stuff and it makes you appreciate what you've got.
Your heritage traces back to tiny Darnley Island in the Torres Strait ...
I'm hoping to go there and see family I haven't met at the end of this year. I love fishing and apparently there is awesome fishing over there.
What was life like in Mackay?
I was there until 18 or 19 ... it was a fun life near the coast - a lot of swimming and fishing and football and hanging out with family and friends. I miss it, but playing NRL top level makes it hard to get back.
Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga. When I was young I had two teddy bears - one was named Wally Lewis and the other was named Wally Lewis Two. That's how much I loved him.
Have you settled into Auckland life?
I came over by myself for the first two months which was hard, especially when you are getting flogged in training five or six days a week. My partner Bonnie is here now and has settled in with her job - she was able to get a job transfer which was good. Half the battle is getting to feel comfortable and it is harder for the partner. We're living in Pt Chevalier and I really like the area. The boys and the coaching staff have helped me settle in but I'll feel even better with a few games under the belt in Warriors colours, just to feel natural in the jersey and like I belong.
You signed for the Warriors early last year ... was it a concern when they crashed late in the season?
To be honest, yes it was. I was a bit worried. I'd signed for three years, the longest contract I've had. It was a big decision to come here and I had thought about it long and hard after five years with Melbourne. The year before the Warriors knocked Melbourne out, but suddenly they lost all those games and badly - the head coach was gone, sacked, and I was beginning to wonder. The club rang and assured me it was for the best, that good things were ahead.
The amazing Storm fullback Billy Slater, tell us about him.
People talk about his speed and footwork, etc, but it's his will to win that stands out to me. I've never met anyone so competitive. Bill still works on things before training and he's always one of the last to leave. The heights he has reached, and yet he still thrives on getting better and helping the players around him. He's also a really good lad off the field. With a lot of players, it goes to the head, but his feet are always on the ground.
What's the magic formula of the Storm's legendary coach Craig Bellamy?
His ability to get the best out of everyone. I really respect the way he gave me so much one-on-one time when I first got there. A lot of it was about my defence. I learned as much in three months as I did in three years at Cronulla. The players helped as well - everyone was willing to help each other and no one was above anyone else.
The Storm were stripped of their 2009 crown ... do you still regard yourself as having won the title that year?
They can say what they want but I've played in two grand finals and won two and no one can take that away from me. We were on top of the world one minute and then at the lowest of the low. It was a really bad time and we stuck together, and came out the other side.
Obstruction has been a big issue - are you all up to speed with the new interpretations?
It can be a big issue if you let it. Every team uses the block runners and it's not something we've purely focused on. There will be times when we do obstruct and when someone obstructs us. No one is perfect.
The Australian crime report has painted a dark picture of Aussie sport - do NRL players feel unfairly branded by that?
I heard about it while in camp for the All Stars game and the players didn't speak about it much. We had what was on the news to go on, which wasn't that much to be honest. I think the game is [clean], but who knows, all this stuff might come out in a couple of weeks that you had no idea about. I can't comment too much - we'll have to wait and see.