NRL: Warriors start build-up for next year

By Steve Deane

Brian McClennan. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Brian McClennan. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The Warriors plan to bolster their 2013 squad with two more experienced NRL players.

An early review into this season's failings determined the campaign had been undermined by the reduction of the NRL squad from 35 to 31 players.

Recruitment and development manager Dean Bell is sifting through the player market - primarily in search of outside backs - to ensure there is no repeat of this season's predicament, when a rash of injuries to senior players forced the club to turn to untested rookies in crucial matches.

Last season, the Warriors released a host of experienced players such as Lance Hohaia, Aaron Heremaia, Brett Seymour, Joel Moon, Shaun Berrigan and Jeremy Latimore, while hooker Nathan Friend was the only player with NRL experience recruited.

Promotions from the junior ranks plugged many of the gaps, but not all those who left were replaced - something that became an issue when veteran hands Micheal Luck, Sam Rapira, Jacob Lillyman and Jerome Ropati all went down injured at the beginning of the season.

"We're a little bit thin on outside backs," Bell said. "If Manu [Vatuvei] or Billy [Tupou] go down we are trying to find replacements.

"We've got options but it's just about having a bit more depth. "What's hurt us this year is that it's the experienced players who have had the long-term injuries. It really put a big strain on the team."

The reduced squad size has had a flow-on effect, and feeder club Auckland Vulcans and the U20s - teams that reached grand finals last year - have been significantly weakened.

The club has signed three experienced campaigners - Thomas Leuluai, Dane Nielsen and Todd Lowrie - for next season.

Bell believed the addition of those players would go a long way to addressing the season's defensive issues.

"All three of them are really good defensive players," he said.

"Thomas Leuluai is flying under the radar in a lot of ways. When people talk about our team they forget about him. James Maloney has been a big part of our team over the last couple of years but we think we have got a really good replacement.

"Thomas's ability to steer the team around will be really good for Shaun Johnson and defensively he is as good as you can get. It will be like having another forward out there on the edge of the ruck. That is a good luxury to have."

Despite the experience deficit, coach Brian McClennan refused to blame the club's rookies for the season's failings.

"We could've done a lot better with the squad we've got," McClennan said. "These young guys are getting opportunities and they've been doing well. I thought our young guys were the better players last week. They'll dig in and have a really good crack [tomorrow] as well."

A lack of physical and mental toughness has been perhaps the most alarming failure this season. The dominant physical displays that paved the way for last year's grand final run have been few and far between, and the team has coughed up winning positions in crucial matches.

"There were games we should've put to bed and we didn't," McClennan said. "I think the Manly one in Perth was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. We just never recovered from that as well as we should have. We ended up a team with a lot of expectations. Like Sydney City and Parramatta - it's been three years in a row now that one team that made the grand final just fell away and the others carried on.

"When you've had an unsuccessful season you've got to go right through the whole thing, and I think we have to ramp up in every area. Not just mental conditioning and physical conditioning - it's coaching and skills, right through to recruitment and development.

"We want to pick things up and make things a lot better and make sure we get in situations where we manage games well when we are in front."

- NZ Herald

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