Mick Watson is leaving the Warriors after five years at the helm, a shock to his employers, staff and players when the announcement came yesterday.

He wasn't being pushed, Watson, 39, said, describing himself as "a change agent" who had to move on.

He'd made the decision last year that he wanted to go but the departure of head coach Daniel Anderson meant new structures had to be put in place. Now that they were, he wanted to pursue other opportunities within New Zealand and internationally, he said.

Are the Warriors in good shape to go into 2006?

"That's part of the question I had to ask myself because I knew Eric [owner Eric Watson] would ask me."

They had a strong development programme and the board was making good decisions.

He didn't want to talk about the position of head coach Tony Kemp.

Watson will stay on for several months to take part in the season review process of the coaching staff and players, among other work. As the review was conducted his position would be as a commentator and observer, rather than decision-maker.

His decision to go was "not reflective of the team performance".

Watson came on board quickly after Eric Watson picked up the club following the collapse of Tainui's management in 2000. Eric Watson had been advised by Matthew Ridge, who knew Mick Watson from his days at Manly when Mick Watson represented sponsors Pepsi.

Mick Watson brought Daniel Anderson in as coach and in 2001 the Warriors made the playoffs for the first time. 2002 was their best year, making the grand final, but by 2003 things were unravelling and a poor performance against Penrith in the semis saw them eliminated.

Since then there have been a number of messy departures, from Ali Lauitiiti through Thomas Leuluai, PJ Marsh, Vinnie Anderson and the coach Daniel Anderson. The speculation over Stacey Jones' position also affected stability at the club.

There is no doubt that Mick Watson did much to set up the systems and structures that turned the Warriors' fortunes in 2001-03. But he has been a much better fair-weather sailor than foul, showing strain as on-field performance stuttered.

Continued departures such as that of Jones, wing Francis Meli and 23-year-old prop Iafeta Paleaaesina, who was off contract, do not suggest a happy camp.

And there is no doubt that feedback from England is affecting player movement to Super League. The Warriors' recent habit of putting contracted players on the market with stipulation they cannot go to other NRL clubs has started to backfire on them.

Those who hold Pacific Island passports can side-step the import quota of three per team because of a European Court ruling on disadvantaging people from developing nations who seek employment.

Vinnie Anderson, Lauitiiti, Leuluai, Logan Swann and others have apparently been encouraging former team-mates to shift to the UK for better money and lifestyle and less pressure.

Warriors management said yesterday that Watson's departure had come so suddenly that no process was in place to appoint a replacement and work would start from scratch.

Around the Auckland and New Zealand rugby league scene his departure will not be greeted with any sadness. Watson's focus on the club has not endeared him to the ARL or the NZRL.

There is the opportunity for a breath of fresh air and the Warriors certainly need that. But it is not the time to dump Kemp who, if nothing else, will have learned many tough lessons this season.

Mick Watson


* Born and raised in Sydney

* Married to New Zealander Mel, a former model; four children

* Marketing background at Kelloggs and Pepsi

* Appointed Warriors chief executive late in 2000

* Warriors finished 8th in 2001; grand finalists in 2002; 4th in 2003; 14th in 2004

* Presided over the arrival of old mate Daniel Anderson as coach in October 2000 and Anderson's departure in May 2004