PHOTO | Making history with the Vodafone Warriors New South Wales Cup side ... Ngani Laumape (left), Sebastine Ikahihifo and Konrad Hurrell: Photo: www.photosport.co.nz
The Vodafone Warriors will break new ground when they field teams in all three grades for the start of the 2014 NRL, NYC and New South Wales Cup seasons this weekend.
The new era will be launched in the New South Wales Cup on Saturday when a team bearing the Vodafone Warriors name will play in the second-tier competition for the first time.
Coached by Rohan Smith and wearing an all-new Canterbury of New Zealand kit, the Vodafone Warriors will take on the Wentworthville Magpies at Belmore Sports Ground (12.00pm kick-off local time).
They’ll do so with two established NRL players in Tongan international Konrad Hurrell and former Vodafone Junior Warriors captain Ben Henry, Hurrell lining up in the new side after being edged out of the club’s NRL side by the in-form Carlos Tuimavave and Henry making his return after knee surgery last year.
The club’s debut in the NSW Cup competition comes about after the Vodafone Warriors reached agreement to take over ownership of the Vulcans.
“It’s a huge development for us and for the game generally that we now have our own teams in all three competitions,” said Vodafone Warriors general manager football operations Dean Bell.
“By having the three teams under our umbrella we now have a fully-integrated approach in both our development programme and in our coaching. We also have fulltime coaches for all three teams.”
The original Auckland Warriors had teams in the first grade, reserve grade and President’s Cup competitions in 1995 and 1996 before fielding sides in the equivalent three grades in the Super League season in 1997.
The Auckland Warriors in 1998 and the rebranded Vodafone Warriors from 1999-2007 became a one-team club in Australian competitions as the reserve grade and President’s Cup competitions in their previous form lapsed.
In 2007 the Auckland Rugby League-owned Auckland Lions appeared in what was then the NSW Premier League before being renamed the Auckland Vulcans for the newly-named NSW Cup from 2008 (the same season the Vodafone Junior Warriors came into the new National Youth Competition).
In 2011 the Vulcans made the NSW Cup grand final but otherwise consistently struggled to make a real impact in the competition.
Foundation Vodafone Warriors New South Wales Cup coach Smith, son of long-time top level coach Brian Smith, has returned to the club after previously being on the football staff 10 years ago.
If it wasn’t for injuries to props Nathaniel Peteru and Albert Vete as well as Dominique Peyroux serving a one-game suspension Smith would have been able to name a debut side made up entirely of Vodafone Warriors-contracted players. The trio’s absence has resulted in the inclusion of locals Upu Poching, who played for the Vodafone Warriors once in 2010, and Jarrod Tua on the bench.
Henry has been named to start in the unlikely role of standoff in a side which includes six players with NRL experience. Apart from Henry, Hurrell and Poching the others are Ngani Laumape, Charles P Gubb and Sebastine Ikahihifo.
Eight of the side appeared for the Vodafone Junior Warriors last year with NRL Nines representative Tuimoala Lolohea, just signed long-term, selected to start at halfback. He scored 22 tries in 28 NYC appearances last year.
In all 15 of the players chosen have come through the Vodafone Junior Warriors with three of them – Lolohea, David Fusitua and Sam Lisone – still NYC-eligible this year.
Steve Waetford, named at fullback, has been named as captain.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v WENTWORTHVILLE MAGPIES
Belmore Sports Ground, Sydney
12.00pm, Saturday, March 08
1 STEVE WAETFORD (c)
2 DAVID FUSITUA
3 KONRAD HURRELL
4 NGANI LAUMAPE
5 JARROD WILSON
6 BEN HENRY
7 TUIMOALA LOLOHEA
8 SAM LISONE
9 MICHAEL SIO
10 CHARLIE GUBB
11 RAYMOND-FAITALA MARINER
12 AGNATIUS PAASI
13 SEBASTINE IKAHIHIFO
14 SILIVA HAVILI
15 UPU POCHING
16 DAVID BHANA
17 ABRAHAM PAPALII
18 JARROD TUA
COACH: ROHAN SMITH