Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Mannering still a true Warrior

James Gavet and the Warriors struggled in Nelson. Photo / Photosport
James Gavet and the Warriors struggled in Nelson. Photo / Photosport

Last Wednesday was a sad day in the history of the Warriors. No one, bar perhaps Stacey Jones, has given more to the club than Simon Mannering, yet he felt compelled to walk away from a captaincy role that he was intensely proud to hold.

Mannering has been at the club more than a decade. By the end of this season, or early next year, he'll break Jones' appearance record and he has led the Warriors for an unprecedented number of games (136, a mark that may never be surpassed). He's bled for the cause, averaging 77 minutes a match across 236 games. It didn't feel right either that he bowed out yesterday as captain at a provincal South Island ground, after a heavy loss in an unimportant trial match. The occasion demanded a lap of honour at Mt Smart, or a packed stadium somewhere across the Tasman.

It wouldn't have been an easy decision, hence the unusual, late timing. But the fact he saw no alternative, even when the club has assembled their best line-up since 2011, showed what a toll it has taken.

It's been one of the hardest jobs in New Zealand sport for much of the last six years. It carries a heavy PR element due to league's status in this country, which Mannering has never been entirely comfortable with. But the main issue was the constant dramas, on and off the field.

He was there in 2012 when coach Brian McClennan battled through with almost no support staff and a thin squad, while Eric Watson and Owen Glenn made their bizarre "biggest franchise in Australasia" promises.

What came next was even worse. Mannering wasn't consulted about the appointment of Matt Elliott, who got the coach's job on a couple of impressive interviews. Elliott was always a strange choice, and the senior players had their doubts from early on but had to grin and bear it. Then another rookie coach, and more upheaval on and off the field, with Andrew McFadden's appointment ... followed by the chaos of last season, and the horrible end to the year.

Mannering was probably too young (23) when he got the job, but he seems too young to be giving it up. It might be for the best. He remains one of the most important players in the squad and the move should ensure he can produce his best on the field.

It's never ideal to have an Australian captain at Mt Smart, but Ryan Hoffman was the logical choice. Shaun Johnson will be a fantastic skipper one day, but he's got enough on his plate at the moment and time on his side.

No one else stood out.

Hoffman has the experience and attitude to be a good skipper, and also the nous for dealing with referees, which is (bizarrely enough) one of the most important elements of the job in the NRL.

The only question marks are over how often he will be there - he missed one-quarter of the season last year due to representative commitments and injury/concussion concerns - and whether he can tailor his style to the Warriors dressing room.

- Herald on Sunday

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