By PETER JESSUP
The Warriors kick off their season with a meet-and-greet at home base Ericsson Stadium today, and Prime Minister Helen Clark will announce the year's captain for the club, arguably in its healthiest state yet.
Owner Eric Watson will be on field with his squad of 26 and coaching staff from 11 am until 2 pm, as the Warriors engage the punters in kicking duels and tackling drills.
The Warriors' elite juniors squad, mostly teenagers, will play a tag match against a team of ex-Kiwis that includes the Iro and Ropati brothers, Warriors assistant coach Tony Kemp, board member Matthew Ridge, former hooker Duane Mann, prop Terry Hermansson and trainer Sam Panapa.
The club has sold 3300 season tickets, more than the past two seasons, and is aiming for 5000 by its first home game against the Sydney City Roosters at Ericsson on Sunday March 24.
The second game is against premiers the Newcastle Knights at Ericsson on Easter Monday, April 1, the NRL having confirmed its schedule for the first six rounds only yesterday.
The Warriors have nine of the first 14 games at home and must win the majority of those, and be up with the competition frontrunners, if they are to go into the finals and through the playoffs with conviction.
No players are carrying serious injuries, although Logan Swann (shoulder) and P.J. Marsh (ankle) are not expected to be up for the first trial against the Sharks at Jade Stadium, Christchurch, on February 17.
They and Monty Betham (broken leg repaired) and Motu Tony (bone graft in the wrist and surgery for compartment syndrome) are expected to come into contention for what is regarded as the more serious of their two pre-season games, against South Sydney at Carlaw Park on February 24.
The NRL chief executives have agreed to extend the "hands-off" period in terms of player negotiation from the end of June until the end of the season. Players cannot now be approached before midnight on the day following the grand final.
The clubs agreed that all approaches to players would be made via the NRL.
The effect will be to cut player managers out of the scene, with only the game's stars likely to need them and to get value through other sponsorship arrangements.
By PETER JESSUP