Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: End looks near for Junior boss

John Ackland, Photo /y Chris Skelton
John Ackland, Photo /y Chris Skelton

Junior Warriors coach John Ackland is set to leave the club at the end of this season.

Ackland has been at the Warriors since 2006 in a variety of coaching roles and guided the under-20 team to back-to-back premierships in 2010 and 2011. Those wins represented the first grand final successes for the Auckland NRL franchise.

Ackland's team finished second in the minor premiership last year but lost successive playoff matches.

Before last night's match in Penrith, they were fifth on the Holden Cup ladder.

But, as reported by the Weekend Herald last month, the relationship between Ackland and new Warriors head coach Matt Elliott has been strained.

While nothing has been settled officially, it is unlikely Ackland will be in his post for next year's Holden Cup. Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah was reluctant to comment on an "employment matter", emphasising that the current focus was on this season.

"John is at the club, doing his job and the team has been going well," Scurrah told the Herald on Sunday. "Every year, there are changes at the club and ultimately, whatever is in place for 2014 will be resolved before the end of this year.

"Right now, our focus is just on the next game."

It seems Ackland and Elliott have disagreed on a variety of issues, mainly around training schedules for the Junior players and the promotion of Ackland's players into the Vulcans.

The Holden Cup presents an interesting challenge. Ackland is charged with producing a title-challenging team every year and the expectation on the Junior Warriors is extremely high, given their previous success and the surfeit of talent at youth level in New Zealand. But Ackland is also expected to produce and develop players for first grade, and the juggling act is a delicate one.

While Ackland has had some detractors over the years - some feel his junior teams play an overly simple brand of football that doesn't always translate well to the NRL - his credentials are impressive.

A sizeable core of the current NRL squad came through the ranks under Ackland in 2010 and 2011, including Shaun Johnson, Elijah Taylor, Konrad Hurell and Ben Henry.

He is also a renowned scout - "nobody has a better knowledge and understanding of the Auckland league scene", was the verdict of one prominent NRL coach.

Before he was employed by the Warriors, he worked as a scout for the Bulldogs, sending schoolboys such as Roy Asotasi, Hutch Maiava and Sonny Bill Williams across the Tasman to NRL careers.

- Herald on Sunday

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