League: Jones' objective to get players to next level

By Michael Brown

Stacey Jones
Stacey Jones

Coaches are normally judged on success but, in the case of Stacey Jones, it will come down to how many of his under-20 players graduate to the Warriors' NRL squad.

Jones has taken over from John Ackland as coach of the team's under-20s side, which is the most successful in the competition's short history. Ackland took them to three grand finals in four years, winning two, but a change of focus at Mt Smart Stadium means results for the young side are being judged differently from before.

Breeding first-graders is now the most important thing, which means a handful of the best under-20s players will turn out for the Warriors' reserve-grade side in the NSW Cup.

This year, Tui Lolohea, Solomone Kata, David Fusitua and Sam Lisone will spend most of the season with the reserve-grade side even though they are all still eligible to play for the under-20s.

"We need to find out how they go against men," said Jones, whose side takes on the Eels in Sydney tomorrow before the respective NRL sides play. "Everyone wants results and I want to win, but for us it's about developing NRL players. The big picture is getting players to the next level.

"As far as winning goes, it makes it harder but it also makes it easier to try to develop players. If I have these boys in my team every week, it means there are four or five others who don't get a chance.

"If we had our best team available, I'm confident we would win most weeks but it's really a week-to-week proposition. I'm at the mercy of our NRL side and then the NSW Cup side below that and things like injuries have a knock-on effect. That's the pecking order."

Jones has invariably been at the top of it during his time at the Warriors. The 37-year-old is among the club's all-time greats, holding the record for most games played (261) and points scored (674) and in 2002 helped them to their first grand final.

Coaching seemed like a natural progression when he retired from professional league after a second stint with the club in 2009 and went on to become player-coach of Point Chevalier for two seasons. In 2012 he worked as an Auckland Rugby League development officer and last year returned to the Warriors as their junior recruitment and pathways coach.

As for many top players for whom the game came naturally, it has sometimes been frustrating for Jones trying to coach youngsters.

"It can be frustrating but you have to take a step back and remind yourself what you were like at that age and how much information you could take in," he said. "I'm always asking them if they understand and they say, 'yeah, yeah', but they don't. I'm constantly reminding them of their role."

Jones isn't sure if he wants to coach at NRL level one day ("I see the level of stress they're under and I'm not sure I want to put myself through that.") and recognises he has a long way to go.

"I'm very fortunate to be able to come back to the Warriors and it's a role I'm really enjoying," he said. "I just want to give it my best shot but there's a lot to get my head around. If I'm doing this job for a while, then I'll be very happy."

- APNZ

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