NRL: Warriors taking shape after Rapira re-signs

Steve Rapira warms up during a New Zealand Warriors NRL training session at Eden Park. Photo / File
Steve Rapira warms up during a New Zealand Warriors NRL training session at Eden Park. Photo / File

The Warriors have long said they want to be a development club rather than one that relies on recruitment and they have illustrated that in a series of re-signings that have firmed up the Warriors' roster well into the future.

Tough-tackling forward Steve Rapira has been re-signed until the end of 2013 and his decision to stay comes on the back of the retention of outstanding 20-year-old centre Konrad Hurrell, impressive 23-year-old prop Ben Matulino and 20-year-old utility Ben Henry, who have all been secured until the end of 2015. Former Queensland Origin prop Jacob Lillyman also committed to a new deal last week until the end of 2014.

"Several years ago we said we were committed to becoming a development club and since then we've seen the benefits of our programme many times over," Warriors recruitment and development manager Dean Bell said. "We've made huge strides with our policy and now we're reaping the rewards as some of these players develop into senior first-graders, especially someone like Ben [Matulino] who was playing in the NYC in 2008 and 2009 but has now made more than 100 first-grade appearances and is seen as one of the best front rowers in the game today.

"We will always be on the lookout for quality players from overseas but our priority is to develop our own home-grown first-grade footballers.

"We're also committed to developing our own players who have the potential to become marquee players like Shaun Johnson, Kevin Locke, Konrad Hurrell and Ben Matulino."

With Matulino and Lillyman secured until 2015 and 2014, Bell pointed out the Warriors had now locked in their impressive stable of leading front rowers for some time.

Late last year Sam Rapira signed on through to 2014 and Russell Packer, who's approaching 100 NRL games, is locked in until 2014. Apart from the experienced quartet, Sione Lousi (22) has established himself as a regular in 2012, appearing in every match so far this season.

The Warriors have made major signings for next season, with Thomas Leuluai returning to the club he started at in 2003 to partner Johnson in the halves for the next three years and Queensland and Melbourne centre Dane Nielsen also contracted for the next three years.

On top of that, captain Simon Mannering had his contract extended to the end of the 2015 season, which will make him an 11-season Vodafone Warrior, and winger Bill Tupou also committed to the club until the end of 2014.

While the Warriors have had success bringing players through their system from local rugby league, Bell said rugby union was a fertile recruitment option as evidenced by Hurrell's rapid development into a quality NRL player.

The former Auckland Grammar School First XV player had a dazzling introduction to rugby league from schoolboy rugby union last season when he helped the Junior Warriors to a second straight NYC premiership. Scoring two tries in the grand final, he had a total tally of 22 in 21 games.

"There's no doubt there will be more young rugby union players in New Zealand with the potential to do what Konrad has done with the Warriors," Bell said. "As a club, we've shown rugby union players that there's so much they can achieve by coming to us, not just on the field but through the total package we provide.

"We've had success in identifying a number of union players at school level and have seen them take to rugby league so well. There'll be more to come."


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