Players man the phones to persuade those wavering that they're worth following, writes Michael Brown

Several Warriors players manned the phones in the off-season as they tried to persuade fans to renew their membership with the club.

It's not a new idea, and other clubs have done it in the past, but the Warriors know they have to go to extra lengths to convince fans they are worth following this season. Eight consecutive defeats are hard for many supporters to erase from their memory banks, no matter how committed to the club they are.

So Joe from Otara and Sally from Birkenhead fielded calls from the likes of captain Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei and Dane Nielsen trying to convince them to jump back on board the Warriors' rollercoaster.

It's often a pretty successful tactic - fans find it harder to say no to players than an anonymous voice down the end of a line - and the level of membership has remained strong with about 7000 signed up for another season. It's about 500 down on last year but is a good result for a club which went into freefall at the end of last season. Corporate membership is ahead of last year.


Some fans have said they won't support the Warriors until they prove they are worth following and Mannering understands that.

"I know a lot of people will stay with us no matter what, and we are very lucky to have those people involved in the club, but there will be a lot who turn their backs on us until we prove otherwise," he said.

But others don't believe their image and reputation has been bruised too much.

"I don't think they have done a huge amount of damage to their brand," said Dean Lonergan, a former Kiwi who now works as an events promoter. "Yeah, they had a pretty bad season last year but they moved quickly to address it and get rid of the problem, which they obviously saw as [former coach] Bluey McClennan. On top of that, too, Warriors fans are some of the most loyal in the game.

"If you go back to when Mark Graham and Tainui had the club [in 1999-2000], they were really dark days - poor attendances, financial issues, terrible performances on the field. What they went through last year was nothing like that. They have good management in place, a consistent ownership structure and a large chequebook. The club is on an even footing and last year was just a blip."

Owners Eric Watson and Owen Glenn said last year they wanted to turn the Warriors into the best single sporting franchise in Australasia and pledged to invest "whatever it takes" over the next five years to help achieve this vision.

It has seen a host of changes in the off-season. A new $1 million gym, complete with altitude chamber and anti-gravity running machine, has been installed and the number of off-field staff has grown exponentially.

They have a new academy and foundation and last week enrolled the first intake of 20 players in their sports diploma they are teaching out of Mt Smart Stadium. They also ventured to Samoa and Tonga to investigate opportunities and the Auckland Vulcans coaching staff have moved into Warriors HQ to ensure consistency of tactics across all three teams.

Merchandise sales are, according to chief executive Wayne Scurrah, "through the roof" and they are the No1 team in the NRL for most club app downloads and dream team players, have the third-highest Twitter followers and are the top-ranking organic Facebook page in New Zealand.

A lot of this can be credited to the fact they hold an advantage over other NRL clubs by being a one-country team but they have also done a lot to harness that. They are trying to be a top club on and off the field and often look to the Brisbane Broncos as a template to success.

"This is the best club I have worked for as far as opportunities to support the playing group are concerned," new coach Matt Elliott said.

"Teams that win grand finals don't frequent the top of the competition occasionally. The teams that win grand finals are up there consistently and give themselves chances of playing grand finals more often.

"There is only one reason to be in the comp. We are not in a developmental stage to achieve that. We are going to have our best shot of doing that this year and if we don't do it this year we are going to get ourselves ready to do a better job next year and the year after that."

The only currency that matters is results and the club are desperate to make a good start this season. It's not something that has happened often - they have won only four of their 16 first-round matches - and often had to rely on late-season charges to sneak into the playoffs. But as the players often said as they spoke to fans on the phone, they will do better than last year. They have to, because serious questions will be asked if they don't.