Editorial: Warriors' big day deserves full attention

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The Warriors celebrate their win. Photo / Getty Images
The Warriors celebrate their win. Photo / Getty Images

If there is one thing it is possible to criticise the Warriors for, it is their timing. Like the Breakers, who had to battle a royal wedding for attention as they claimed their first Australian National Basketball League title this year, they have chosen an inopportune moment to reach the National Rugby League final. It is difficult to think of a bigger obstacle to a team receiving its fair due than a Rugby World Cup at home.

Yet, judging by the way people gathered in front of television screens in the bars around Eden Park after last Saturday night's All Blacks clash, even this has barely diminished the general enthusiasm for the Warriors. Happily, that has been recognised. Fans unable to make the trip to Sydney will be able to watch Sunday's match against Manly on giant screens at the Captain Cook Wharf and Mt Smart Stadium. Win or lose, the Warriors' supporters will have an unforgettable time.

As much is guaranteed by the club's participation in the finals of all three grades - the NSW Cup between the Auckland Vulcans and the Bulldogs, the Toyota Cup between the Junior Warriors and the Cowboys, and the NRL grand final.

That bears testament to the depth of talent at the club and suggests there will be more finals for the Warriors in the years ahead. Finally, it appears that many of New Zealand's best young players are choosing to stay , rather than cross the Tasman. A Broncos-style dynasty seems a reasonable ambition.

Much of the credit for this must go to John Ackland, the juniors' head coach, and Tony Iro, the Warriors assistant coach, who switched roles at the start of last year.

It was Ackland who, while working as a scout for the Bulldogs, discovered a young Sonny Bill Williams. Over the past few years, he and Iro have shown a keen eye for talent identification and produced a steady stream of young players for the Warriors. The latest is halfback Shaun Johnson, who has displayed prodigious ability in only 15 NRL matches, culminating in his dagger thrust to the heart of the Melbourne Storm last Saturday.

This will be the final match as coach of the Warriors for Ivan Cleary, who appeared as a player in their only previous final appearance, in 2002. This situation has created an understandable degree of angst and a tinge of bittersweetness. Its oddness is emphasised by the fact that no coach has ever won the NRL grand final and coached another team the next season.

Calmly and competently, Cleary has turned the Warriors into a consistently competitive team. Inevitably, there are now questions about whether he has been allowed to leave for Penrith rather too easily. Certainly, his achievements should not be underestimated, even if a natural and popular successor in former Kiwis coach Brian McLennan stood in the wings.

McLennan has said he will keep the club's backroom staff intact. That also augurs well for the Warriors. The grind of the NRL is tough enough without a constant chopping and changing of players and staff and other backroom disruptions. Indeed, continuity is vitally important in all sports, as the Breakers' successful run to become the first New Zealand team to win an Australian club competition confirmed.

The Warriors will start as underdogs. But there have been times this season when they have appeared a formidable force, with few significant weaknesses. For inspiration, they need look only at the Kiwis' success in winning the World Cup and the Four Nations competition. New Zealand's rugby league stocks have never been higher. Now, even in a fervent rugby atmosphere, the feat of playing off for Australasian rugby league's top club prize deserves wide acclaim.

- NZ Herald

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