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Vodafone Warriors Shaun Johnson, Konrad Hurrell, Ben Henry and Elijah Taylor at last year's awards dinner held during the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby League Nationals. Photo: Photosport

The Vodafone Warriors have underlined their support of the game at grass roots level by boosting their contribution to the week-long New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby League Nationals which began in Papakura today.

After combining with the Auckland Rugby League to launch the highly-successful inaugural College Rugby League competition, the club is not only continuing its involvement in the nationals but is lending more support with its expertise and resources.

The tournament has become one of the most important events on the calendar in New Zealand, said Vodafone Warriors general manager football operations Dean Bell.

Its critical for us, not just in identifying new talent but also in helping in tangible ways to promote the game and to help to develop the sport at school level.

All NRL clubs take a real interest in this event and were certainly keen to do all we can to ensure it continues to grow.

Vodafone Warriors junior recruitment and pathways coach Stacey Jones will again closely follow individual players.

Were always on the lookout for young players with potential to come into our development system and hopefully to one day become NRL players, he said.

We keep a close eye on young players not just in Auckland but throughout the country and this national tournament gives us a chance to see many of those players and perhaps some new faces.

The Vodafone Warriors recently signed Palmerston North Boys High School pupil Fabien Kiri, whos still only 15. A 188cm 102kg back rower, he plays for the Kia Ora in Manawatu, made the New Zealand Under-15 Merit side last year and has also played for the Central Vipers.

Late last year the Vodafone Warriors signed prop Matiu Love-Henry (17) from the Taupo Phoenix and educated at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Whakarewa i Te Reo Ki Tuwharetoa. He excelled in the Auckland Rugby League club competition this year, playing for the Fox Memorial premiers the Point Chevalier Pirates; he missed their grand final win but was named the ARLs rookie of the year.

Bell said the Vodafone Warriors had become an official support partner at the 2013 New Zealand Secondary School Rugby League Nationals.

Through this increased level of support, a number of Vodafone Warriors staff will be in attendance at Bruce Pulman Park throughout the tournament.

Jones, together with Awen Guttenbeil and Jerry Seuseu, will be involved in player-specific coaching; Guttenbeil will make a presentation on player pathways and leadership; and Vodafone Warriors staff will also fill roles as selectors during the week.

In a new initiative all schools participating in the nationals have been presented with Vodafone Warriors starter packs a Vodafone Warriors branded ball carry bag including five Vodafone Warriors Steeden balls, cones and a drink bottle carrier containing 12 Vodafone Warriors drink bottles.

The club is also providing a Vodafone Warriors signed ball as a player of the day award for every game played along with other prizes and giveaways during the week.

The best back and best forward of the tournament awards will be presented by Vodafone Warriors Ben Henry and Glen Fisiiahi at Thursday nights awards dinner at Mount Smart Stadium.

The Warriors Academy will also be involved during the week featuring some

of the clubs players such as David Fusitua, Eko Malu, Stedman Lefau, Matiu Love-Henry, Viliami Lolohea and Sam Cook whose work at the tournament will form part of their course credits. Among their tasks will be planning a coaching session, managing each field and after-match presentations and organising Vodafone Warriors activities and giveaways.

A total of 24 schools are taking part this week. After preliminary matches today, tomorrow and on Wednesday, semi-finals will be held on Thursday and finals on Friday.

Criteria were introduced this year to reserve places for the best schools in each of the NZRL's seven zones. The top-qualifying schools from the zones were: Kaitaia College (Northland), St Paul's College (Akarana), Otahuhu College (Counties Manukau), Tokoroa High School (Upper Central), Tu Toa College (Mid-Central), Taita College (Wellington) and Aranui High School (Southern).

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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