More than 200 players from New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific were given an opportunity to chase their rugby league dreams during the Vodafone Warriors’ two-day open NYC trial at Cornwall Park in Auckland at the weekend.
When registrations for the expanded trial programme closed, more than 500 players had put forward their names for consideration.
The list was pruned to a manageable number with players given trial time on Saturday to stake a claim to join pre-identified players for the two main trial matches on Sunday.
“There’s no doubt having the event over two days was a huge step forward,” said Vodafone Warriors academy and pathways manager Duane Mann.
“We found the quality of the players was much improved overall and we also had a much better chance to evaluate them.
“On the first day we were able to give regional and little-known players as much game time as possible and select the best of them to join pre-identified rugby league and rugby union talent in the main trials.
“Bringing the trial date forward has also been beneficial. It means we can review, assess and select players to join us when offseason training starts for our NYC and development players on November 10.”
Mann said coaching staff would now review performances over the weekend with a view to signing some players and giving others an opportunity to join the NYC squad for offseason training next month.
As many as 10 players were contracted following last year’s trial with Michael Ki, James Bell, Jazz Tevaga and Paul Ulberg emerging as major success stories. They all went on to establish themselves with the Vodafone Junior Warriors culminating in the NYC grand final victory over Brisbane on October 5. Tevaga and Ulberg are eligible to play in the NYC again next year.
On the first day of this year’s trial 160 players had the opportunity to show their wares in front of Mann, head coach Andrew McFadden, general manager football Dean Bell, New South Wales Cup coach Stacey Jones, NYC coach Kelvin Wright, development squad staff, scouts and selectors.
A feature was the largest contingent of overseas players involved since the Vodafone Warriors have held the annual open trial. Not all were of New Zealand heritage and, while most had a rugby league background, a large number had a grounding in touch, rugby union and even Australian rules football and basketball.
Among the overseas group were Fijian under-19 rugby league players while others travelled from Perth, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Newcastle and Sydney. There were also New Zealanders from the highly-regarded Keebra Park State High School system who came home to trial.
There were some familiar family connections; one was Andre Iro, son of former Kiwi and Vodafone Warrior No 51 Kevin Iro, while Liam Longergan, son of ex-Kiwi Dean Lonergan, was another.
Metia Lisati, Visesio Setefano and Paul Tuli, all Vodafone Junior Warriors past or present, had younger brothers taking part while NRL players Manu Vatuvei and Raymond Faitala-Mariner had cousins involved.
In all 16 players from the first day were invited back for the main trial games on Sunday to line up alongside rugby league players the club had been tracking as well as some from secondary schools rugby union.
The Vodafone Warriors also worked with scouts from around the country to expose some of their top prospects including five Wai-Coa-Bay Stallions players from the Pirtek NZRL National Premiership final as well as several representative players from Wellington.
Vodafone Warrior Siliva Havili’s younger brother Semisi trialled on Sunday as did Falcon Peni (younger brother of Junior Kiwi winger Chance Peni), Junior Lisone (younger brother of Vodafone Junior Warriors co-captain Sam Lisone) and Ramo Solomona (another product from the well-known rugby league clan).
Peni had travelled from Perth with his family to watch his brother play for the Junior Kiwis in their 15-14 victory over the Junior Kangaroos on Saturday night.
Rugby union players from King’s College, Sacred Heart College and De La Salle College First XVs were involved as well as others who had impressed the selectors from Papatoetoe High School and Dilworth School in Auckland’s 1B competition.
Likewise Counties Manukau’s top rugby union schools Manurewa High School and Wesley College provided players. Manurewa made the semi-finals in Auckland’s College Rugby League First XIII competition this year while Wesley has recently started playing rugby league, hosting a Franklin rugby league tournament run by Counties Manukau Rugby League. Vodafone Warriors fullback Glen Fisiiahi is a Wesley old boy.
Other union players came from Hamilton Boys’ High School, Rotorua Boys’ High School, Kaitaia College and Nelson College as well as schools in the Wellington region.