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

League: Jones still making a mark at Warriors

The club’s greatest player is now excelling as a coach with the reserve grade side.
Stacey Jones scores for the Warriors in the 2002 grand final. Photo / Getty Images
Stacey Jones scores for the Warriors in the 2002 grand final. Photo / Getty Images

Stacey Jones is open to coaching the Warriors, but discounts it happening in the next few years.

For many fans, Jones is the man who would be king, the local boy who might one day bring another New Zealand presence to the top job at Mt Smart.

Unquestionably the club's greatest player, the "Little General" has taken to coaching with alacrity.

He proved himself at grassroots level with Pt Chevalier Pirates and has since impressed with the lower grades at Mt Smart. He has helped to develop some of the brightest young talents at the club - including Solomone Kata, Nathaniel Roache and Jazz Tevaga - and his reserve grade side are top of the Intrust Super Premiership after a recent seven-game winning streak.

But Jones is in no hurry.

Asked if he wanted to be an NRL head coach, he replied: "Not right now. I feel I can offer a lot in the position I am.

"You never say never but it would be a fair way off.

"I got into coaching to help my local football team out, not because I wanted to be an NRL coach, but one thing led to another and now I'm here. Maybe [in the future] if I feel I have learned enough and I am right for it. But only when the time is right."

Jones looks a natural coach. He helped the Pirates rise from the bottom of Auckland's third division to the Fox Memorial final.

In 2014 he was given the Holden Cup team. It was the first year of a new direction at the club, with the emphasis on promoting players to reserve grade as soon as possible, which made his subsequent triumph with the under-20s possibly the best of the four titles the club have won.

Jones has helped foster a strong mindset again this year and has the club's No2 side humming.

"He's really smart but quite chilled as a coach," said fullback Henare Wells. "His approach is not too complicated.

"He gives us a bit of freedom to play how we like but also with structure. And he relates to us really well. Everyone respects his decisions."

Stability has helped Jones, especially the quality roster of forwards.

"When I get players back from the NRL team, it's my job to make them better and get them back there," said Jones. "It's important in reserve grade that you have someone that understands what it is like to be a player."

Jones will be back in the spotlight today as the club celebrate the class of 2002, with the top team wearing replica jerseys from that year's grand final.

It remains the closest the Warriors have come to a title. Unlike the 2011 final, when they fell behind early to the Sea Eagles, in 2002 the Warriors led until about an hour in, before a Roosters blitzkrieg crushed their hopes.

"It wasn't to be," said Jones. "We were up against a decent team and a world-class player in Brad Fittler. He got whacked by Richard Villasanti and that seemed to up the ante for the Roosters forwards. We couldn't go with them for about 20 minutes.

"Tough day, tough 20 minutes."

But it was a special season. The Warriors finished minor premiers, helped by a remarkable record in Australia where they won seven of 11 matches.

"The balance of that team was really good," said Jones. "Jerry [Seuseu], Campo (Kevin Campion) and Awen [Guttenbeil] led the forwards. We had a good spine and strike power out wide.

"The key to it all was everyone knew their jobs and everyone got on. We'll play cards as soon as we got to airport, on the bus, hotel. We enjoyed going away."

Like many players, Jones has few memories of the final.

"The game went like a blur," said Jones. "You wish you could turn back time, do things again and try to reverse the result. My memories of that game: kickoff, halftime, game over, disappointed."

Jones scored the Warriors' only try - a mazy run that is regularly touted as one of the greatest grand final tries.

"It was a good feeling at the time but it didn't last long," said Jones.

- Herald on Sunday

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