Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has no problem with his players petitioning to change the team's style of play and gameplan, saying he is the first one to "look in the mirror" and see where improvements can be found.

In an wide-ranging interview with the Herald, Kearney also admitted that the game model last year "didn't really help" the playing group achieve their best.

Senior forward Adam Blair's revelation on Tuesday that the players had started to wonder about the tactics employed towards the end of last season, and then subsequently made proposals to the coaching staff after a player's meeting, was refreshingly honest, and revealed plenty about the dynamics of modern sport, where a strictly top down approach is rare.

But while the players' feedback might have shaken the tree, the men with the clipboard were already on the same page.


Before the final game of last season Kearney had realised changes needed to come.

"We definitely need to make some adjustments, to our game style, without a doubt," said Kearney before the round 25 match in September. "We need to make adjustments so we can swing it our way in [big] moments."

Those feelings were strengthened during frank review sessions in September, where players and staff were given an open forum.

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Such moments can be confronting, but Kearney feels it was a positive process.

"It wasn't difficult," said Kearney. "I'm the first one to look in the mirror and say 'where can we improve?'. I know I don't have all the answers. It's about looking at myself 'okay, what can we be better at, where can we improve?'

"There was a process and they were part of it. They are essential in terms of our footy club; from the leaders like [Adam] Blair, Greenie [Blake Green], Tohu [Harris] and we have some great young kids coming through. It's important that we take on board what they brought to the table."

The Warriors often employed an extremely basic approach last year, emphasising field position and a low-risk approach with the ball. They were far from the only NRL team with those priorities but the Auckland team had a grinding, often one-dimensional style, especially for the forwards, with a notable lack of variety, support play and changing of angles.

Kearney admits now it didn't fit.


"Last year we didn't help the playing group in terms of our game model," said Kearney.

"Take for example the forwards...everyone is talking about the forwards, they are not up to this, not up to that, the reality was that the game model didn't really help them."

"[Now] it is about changing things around and bringing the forwards into the game a lot more. We have some really skilful forwards but we didn't really give them an opportunity to show their skills."

Kearney also emphasises it will need to be a 'horses for courses' approach and will take time to bed in.

"That's the reality, in this game," said Kearney. "If we are playing on a wet Saturday night at Mt Smart against a hardened team, this new game model probably won't wash that night. It might be different at Suncorp Stadium in May. It's understanding the balance."

Isaiah Papali'i, who will become the Warriors' youngest captain when he leads the team out in the NRL Nines on Friday, has noted the change in emphasis at training.

"I've enjoyed the amount of ball in hand we have got throughout the pre-season," said Papali'i. "Usually throughout the pre-Christmas we are just hitting the running but we have a lot of skilful boys throughout the team and being able to mix in that skill with the conditioning has probably been the most fun part."

The 21-year-old only found out on Monday that he was going to be skipper and admitted it was a considerable honour.

There are a few NRL regulars (Green, Ken Maumalo, Leeson Ah Mau) but otherwise the interest will be in the performance of the young brigade, particularly Rocco Berry, son of former All Black Marty Berry.

"He's quite a free player," said Papali'i. "He plays fullback, centre. He's got that flow about him where he can just pop up anywhere. He's got that game sense. I can't wait to see him play this weekend and I am sure he will go well."

The Nines kick off on Friday in Perth with the Panthers facing the Roosters in the first game (9:30pm NZT).

The Warriors face the Knights (Friday, 9:55pm) and Roosters (Saturday, 4:35pm) in their pool matches.

The knockout rounds are all on Saturday night, with the final scheduled for just before midnight.

The women's competition (Warriors, Dragons, Roosters and Broncos) features a full round robin, with the top two teams qualifying for Saturday's final at 11.25pm.