By PETER JESSUP
Rugby legend Michael Jones might have a first run in league today, but he will have to break an agreement with his wife to do it.
Jones is waterboy for a first hybrid league-union game that is the curtainraiser to the Warriors' final pre-season hit-out at Waitakere Stadium.
Rugby's captain Tu Nu'ualiita is aware that the All Black great gave his wife a commitment "written in blood" that he wouldn't pull on the boots again, but he worries that 'Iceman' Jones will drop the water bottles and go for the ball as competition becomes too much for him.
Also playing for the rugby team are former Auckland prop Peter Fatialofa and halfback Brett Iti, Manu Samoa's Danny Kaleopa, Tongan international Willie Lose, David Manaako and Joe Mafileo.
The league side include former Kiwis and Warriors Duane Mann, Tea Ropati, Sam Panapa and Ritchie Blackmore. Yesterday they were trying to confirm four other ex-Kiwis - Terry Hermansson, Tony and Kevin Iro, and Kelly Shelford.
Referee Steve Walsh, now retired from rugby's top ranks, ran Nu'ualiita's team for 40 minutes on Thursday night and watchers were impressed at how well they developed after starting like "headless chooks."
The match will be played in 10-minute quarters, the attacking side starting with four tackles and play-the-balls league-style, then reverting to rugby ruck-and-maul rules until there is a turnover or the ball goes dead.
Tries are worth five points, conversions two and penalties three. The leaguies ruled out dropped goals.
Mann, two years out of regular top-level football, knows how Jones will feel on the sideline. Coaching the Glenora Bears in the national Bartercard Cup competition last year, he was called on as emergency replacement in the match against Canterbury when a player missed the plane to Christchurch.
"I jokingly said I'd sit on the bench, and then two minutes into the game a guy turns his ankle and I had to play the rest."
He was awarded player of the day by team-mates. He regards that as a joke, but enjoyed the match and still feels twinges about getting out there, even with his 37th birthday approaching.
"I know how competitive Michael is. He'll be itching to have a go."
The game kicks off at noon, followed by the Warriors' run against a selection of developing and second-chance Warriors with top Bartercard players.
Warriors coach Daniel Anderson said he was as interested in the performance of some of the Cowboys selection as he was in his own team's.
"I'm sure some of them will go on to play NRL."
He has rested six players who will start competition game one against the Roosters at Ericsson Stadium on March 24 - Stacey Jones, Jerry Seuseu, Francis Meli, Kevin Campion, Richard Villasanti and Awen Guttenbeil.
"I just can't get any more out of them," Anderson said
The rest of the game one 17 will be made up of the side which played Souths and the one which plays today, with P. J. Marsh the only other contender as he returns from injury.
Anderson and other Warriors who attended the NRL opening in Sydney this week were impressed at the way the Auckland club was folded into picture montages, and with the video clips and the audio presentation at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, taking it as a signal the league expects good returns from the club and is acknowledging its role.
Captain Monty Betham, interviewed by Australian Sportsman of the Year Pat Rafter, extolled the virtues of the young players in the side.
Less than pleased with the response his club got was the chairman of South Sydney, George Piggins, who has been complaining that the club's entrance to the museum should have been to rapturous applause and congratulations.
What he perceived, Piggins said, was the cold shoulder from former Super League factions.
Wests Tigers coach Terry Lamb has again fallen foul of the PC brigade, apologising yesterday if anyone was offended by his practice of making the last man home in training runs wear a T-shirt saying "Bitch."
New Zealand Warriors: I. Cleary, S. Hape, J. Carlaw, C. Toopi, J. Murphy, M. Tony, L. Hohaia, I. Palea'aesina, M. Betham (capt), M. Tookey, A. Lauiti'iti, S. Faumuina, L. Swann. Interchange, B. Webb, W. Koopu, J. Morgan, D. Myles, H. Fa'afili, D. Rennie.
West Auckland Cowboys selection: D. Floyd (Hibiscus Coast, Warriors development squad), H. Vaihu (Marist/Richmond, Wds), V. Anderson (Mt Albert, Wds), G. Carmont (Otahuhu), H. Kapi (Northcote), L. Finnerty (Mt Albert), C. Ly (Manurewa), S. Faitala (Eastern Tornadoes), R. Wigg (Hibiscus Coast), I. Ah Mau (Otahuhu, Wds), E. Leuluai (Eastern Tornadoes, Wds), B. Solomon (Hibiscus Coast, Wds), A. Kiro (Manurewa), K. Ganley (Northcote, Wds), C. Edmonson (Glenora, Wds), S. Buckingham (Mt Albert), R. White (Hibiscus Coast), B. Nelson (Otahuhu), W. Barnett (Manurewa), H. Maiava (Mt Albert).
By PETER JESSUP