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

Nines: Warriors' aces go all in

The Warriors and their new recruits will be hoping the Nines sets the tone for 2016. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Warriors and their new recruits will be hoping the Nines sets the tone for 2016. Photo / Dean Purcell

The Warriors have gone "all in" for the Auckland Nines - and will need to achieve big at the tournament to set the tone for 2016.

Sure, it's only a pre-season event and there will be much more important challenges this year. And yes, some clubs have picked experimental line-ups, and many of the results will be forgotten when round one of the NRL premiership starts in March.

But the stakes seem higher for the Warriors; they have showed their hand by picking a strong team, and the move will need to pay off, like the punter at the poker table that shovels all his chips into the pot on receipt of a favourable deal.

The Warriors will have almost all their aces on display. As well as Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Blake Ayshford and Tui Lolohea in the backline, they have four of their frontline props plus Ryan Hoffman.

Johnson is the key. The 25-year-old, a much-debated selection after the horrific ankle injury that ended his 2015 campaign, will be the creative spark for the home side, either as playmaker or damaging runner.

He's again captain for this tournament and thrives on the responsibility.

Starting tomorrow at 2.20pm against the Bulldogs in their first pool game, it's time to shine for the Auckland club. The success of the tournament hinges on how long the Warriors are alive. In 2014, they reached the semifinals - beaten by the eventual winners - and it was a carnival in the sunshine. Last year, the Warriors limped out in the first knockout game, which, with inclement weather, put a dampener on the rest of the event.

However, much more importantly, the Warriors need to do well for themselves. A good run of results will generate some momentum ahead of the NRL season, one of the most important in the club's history. It's invaluable for belief knowing, whatever the format, they can tough out a close contest.

They couldn't do that in 2014, when they fell to the Cowboys in the semifinal, after beating the Queensland team in pool play. The Warriors blew several scoring opportunities in the first half, and didn't handle the pressure well in the second half. Against the Sharks last year they scored three tries to two but fell to a 14-12 loss.

And don't underestimate the impact of a trophy, particularly for a club that has been starved of silverware across its history. Look at the Cowboys, and the effect of their 2015 win in Auckland.

"It was really important, especially for Greenie [Paul Green's] coaching regime," said former Cowboy Brent Tate. "It was his first event and set the precedent for what he expected for everyone."

McFadden must think the same.

"It is important that we do well," said McFadden. "We will put out a strong side but it is not the be-all and end-all of our season."

- Herald on Sunday

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 26 Oct 2016 03:29:10 Processing Time: 564ms