At the start of the NRL season there was much trumpeting about the depth at the Warriors and it is already being tested with five players gone for the season from the top squad.

The keepers of the depth are Tony Iro, who takes the Under-20s squad in the Toyota Cup, and Bernie Perenara, who coaches the affiliated feeder side, the Auckland Vulcans.

The Under-20s have already provided Russell Packer, Ben Matulino, Malo Solomona and Leeson Ah Mau to the top side and the rest are still being brought through, rated by Iro as needing more experience, age and size before they'll be ready.

When Warriors skipper Steve Price was ruled out last week, Perenara got a call from assistant coach John Ackland saying they would need to call up lock/secondrower Lewis Brown and lock/five-eighth Daniel O'Regan, who was the Under-20s captain in 2008.

It's not easy for Perenara having to juggle the squad members when he doesn't know which of the Warriors top squad will be available to him until Tuesday evening - and then that can change, as it did last week. He also has to consider the 40-hour-a-week work demands of the rest who are not professional footballers.

"We are getting more players from the Warriors this year but it's very haphazard. We had Michael Witt, and he's gone to rugby; we had Epalahame Lauaki, and he's going to Hull; Jesse Royal had one game with us, Paddy Ah Van got called up on Tuesday to replace Brent Tate."

Perenara likes a challenge. He was fishing over the Manukau bar in February last year when the chairman of the Auckland Rugby League, Cameron McGregor, rang and offered him the job of coaching the Vulcans. "How long until the season starts?" he asked. One month, was the reply.

The idea of entering the team into the New South Wales Rugby League Cup was to benefit the Warriors and the ARL, with those in the top squad at the NRL side able to get quality game time to keep them match-fit and ready. Top players from Auckland's Fox Memorial competition also got a chance to showcase their skills and an incentive to stay and play here, rather than move to Sydney or Brisbane.

The attitude of the professionals seeps into the Vulcans, Perenare says, and that was never more evident than with Ruben Wiki when he was demoted last season during a rare patch of ordinary form.

"The only bad thing about having Ruben in our team was that the boys would line up with their mobile phones wanting each other to take pictures of them with him just before the game started. No one had their mind on the match," Perenara said.

Wiki was often first to training and would be boots on and ready to run, signing autographs for local children and kicking footballs with them while he waited.

"I used to say to the rest of them, 'You wonder why he's a legend? It's an attitude like that.' A lot of guys picked up on that. Of all the players I've dealt with, no one comes close to Ruben in terms of professionalism. He's a diamond, that bloke."

The PAYE workers in the squad have to fit training and game demands around those of their employers. Some can't help but be late to training sessions or miss them altogether - "we have to have a word once they miss three". A couple of weeks ago the squad helped one team member with an urgent concreting job he had to finish so he could fly to Sydney on Saturday for the game against St George feeder side Shellharbour.

"It brings the team together," Perenara said of such hardships. Their travel schedule is tougher than that of the Warriors. After playing they will catch a late flight out and return to Auckland around midnight. "I'd like to stay and get the rehab done there then fly Sunday but it's what the budget allows for," he said. "Sometimes we have guys with injuries that are still bleeding and haematomas and so on."

Some players do it because they have to (those who are already Warriors), others because they want to (those who want to be Warriors). Or to get a chance at another NRL or Super League side.

Among those in the Vulcans are former Warriors and Eels lock Jeremiah Pai and former Warriors and Sharks centre Vince Mellars. Hooker/halfback Aaron Heremaia was unable to get a work visa to allow him to stay in England and turned up out of the blue and after two appearances for the Warriors has been picked up, with talk he'll be signed in the top squad.

Gone from the top squad announced in pre-season are Lauaki, Witt, Tate for the season with a knee tear, Sonny Fai after the tragedy at Bethells Beach and possibly Evarn Tuimavave, who suffered a bad neck injury.

"The guys in this team notice that. It puts them on show and they get a gauge themselves of how good they are and so what their chances might be," Perenara said.

"What happens with the Warriors will determine where we finish this year. If we get two or three players back we'll make the playoffs."

Perenara has always been recognised as a smart judge of a footballer and a clever coach. He started with the New Lynn Stags Under-13s and among those who went though the club while he was there were Tony Puletua, who went on to the Kiwis, and Stephen Bates, Sione Lauaki and Mose Tuiali'i who went on to Super Rugby and the All Blacks.

After shifting up to take the Otahuhu Colts, he returned to the west with Glenora in the Fox, moving up to take Marist-Richmond in the Bartercard Cup and then the Waitakere Rangers in the last two years of that competition. He handled New Zealand Maori for three years, including a tour of France.

The Vulcans are stronger this season for a number of reasons, not least of which is having had a pre-season. They train at the Ellerslie club on Mondays and Wednesdays and use the Warriors' gym and video analysis room on Thursdays, then run on Mt Smart number two, fly on Friday and play Saturday.