Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

NRL: Nielsen is part of the big picture for the Warriors

Dane Neilsen who played two games for Queensland in last year's State of Origin series, said four clubs were after his services but he opted for the Warriors. Photo / Quinn Rooney.
Dane Neilsen who played two games for Queensland in last year's State of Origin series, said four clubs were after his services but he opted for the Warriors. Photo / Quinn Rooney.

Dane Nielsen's recruitment by the Warriors represents the change in focus the club has adopted in recent seasons and also shows their new-found pulling power.

The Melbourne Storm centre, who played two games for Queensland in last year's State of Origin series, said four clubs were after his services but he opted for the Warriors.

It wasn't necessarily a case of winning a bidding war but Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said it fell in to their plan to sign only "top-level" recruits and focus on growing New Zealand players rather than filling their roster with journeyman Australians.

Scurrah likened Nielsen's signing to that of Thomas Leuluai, who late last year also signed a three-year deal from English Super League club Wigan to join the Warriors in 2013.

"I think our strategy is growing boys ourselves and bringing guys out of the system around the country and grooming them through Toyota Cup, which has been brilliant getting young guys an opportunity," Scurrah said. "Ideally for us the bulk of our squad in the future will come from New Zealand and then we'll bring in the odd top-level player to complement that.

"It's the same as Thomas Leuluai. He's going really well for Wigan. Wigan wanted to keep him but he's joining our club, and I don't think it's always a case of who offers the most money, either. It's wanting to come to a club that you believe is competitive, has a good environment, a good culture and I think that helps reflect that when you're able to get people like Dane and Thomas."

Nielsen is one of the Storm's recent success stories. After battling through the lower grades in Sydney and making one appearance for Cronulla in 2007, he headed to Melbourne where he became a regular first-grader in 2008. He is now known as one of the top fringe defenders in the game and this season has score five tries in eight games including two in a 32-14 defeat of the Warriors.

He said the Storm wanted to keep him, while two Sydney clubs were also after his services but the Warriors were able to trump them all.

Often in the past, big-name Australian players were opposed to crossing the ditch or the Warriors had to pay more than they were worth to lure them, but the 26-year-old said he had no issues with coming to New Zealand.

It doesn't always mean they can retain good players, and influential five-eighth James Maloney is heading back to Sydney next season to be closer to his family.

"I know that as long as I prepare myself well and do what I want to do on and off the field, that's when I'm playing my best football," Nielsen said. "Whether it's here in Melbourne or over in New Zealand, as long as I keep doing those things and keep working hard, I'll become a better player.

"I'm going to go over there to work my butt off in the pre-season and hopefully spark up some combinations and get to know everyone really well.

"It was a very tough decision. There were a lot of things I had to weigh up and it was a tough process but I'm happy with the decision I've made."

While Nielsen has played on the wing in the past, his preferred position is centre, which has been a troublesome spot for the Warriors over the past few seasons.

Lewis Brown, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Krisnan Inu, Lance Hohaia, Shaun Berrigan and Joel Moon are among a raft of players who have played there recently and rookies Konrad Hurrell and Ben Henry will line up in the centres against the Roosters tomorrow

Nielsen will hope he's the man to plug that hole long-term.

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