Vodafone Warriors great Stacey Jones begins another chapter in his coaching journey tonight when he takes the reins for the club’s first NRL trial of the 2015 season against Gold Coast at Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba (10.00pm kick-off NZT).
Head coach Andrew McFadden is in Queensland for the hit-out but he has given Jones the task of coaching the side this week.
Just a week ago, Jones was alongside McFadden as an assistant coach at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines.
After guiding the Vodafone Junior Warriors to the NYC premiership in his rookie season in the role, Jones was promoted to coach the club’s New South Wales Cup side for the 2015 season while also lending support to McFadden and his NRL coaching team.
After ending his playing career in 2009 after 261 appearances for his beloved Vodafone Warriors, Jones has come through the coaching ranks.
First he returned to grass roots rugby league to coach at his own club Point Chevalier, taking the Pirates back into Auckland’s Fox Memorial.
A stint with the Auckland Rugby League was followed by a term as the Vodafone Warriors’ development coach before he handed control of the NYC side last season.
Today’s trial against Gold Coast had always been designated by McFadden as an opportunity to field a less-experienced squad. The players selected provide a mix of some NRL players, a number of New South Wales Cup regulars from last season and a collection of NYC-eligible players. Many of the group chosen will feature in Jones’ New South Wales Cup plans this season as they look to develop and push claims for NRL selection.
The squad includes two players from the Vodafone Warriors’ NRL Nines team last week and a total of six with first-grade experience. Outside back Matt Allwood and utility Nathaniel Roache are both included after being involved in the Nines at Eden Park. Allwood made a try-scoring appearance against Canberra while the 18-year-old Roache wasn’t used in any of the side’s four games.
As well as Allwood (22), who had 11 NRL appearances for the Raiders last year, others with first-grade experience are 32-game utility Dominique Peyroux, former Parramatta utility Api Pewhairangi, props Charlie Gubb and Upu Poching plus back rower John Palavi.
Also included are seven players from the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ 2014 NYC premiership-winning squad. Roache, wing Paul Ulberg, front rower Toafofoa Sipley and loose forward James Bell all played in the grand final while stand-off Ata Hingano and back rowers Marata Niukore and Matiu Love-Henry were key contributors during the season. Apart from Bell the other six players are all NYC-eligible again this year.
Other regulars from the club’s 2014 New South Wales Cup side included are wing Jarrod Tua, halfback Sam Cook, back rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner and prop Nathaniel Peteru along with former Vodafone Junior Warriors Viliami Kaveinga and Stedman Lefau.
The Titans also have a side featuring a mix of players at different stages of the spectrum although they will be able to call on a substantial level of NRL experience (as well as three players with past links with the Vodafone Warriors – Matt Robinson, Mark Ioane and Agnatius Paasi).
The starting line-up named earlier in the week featured fullback Anthony Don (28 NRL games), wing Kalifa Faifai Loa (46), centre Jamie Dowling (10), ex-Brisbane prop David Hala (37), fellow front rower Matt White (138), former Penrith back rower Robinson (32) and loose forward Ben Ridge (54). Among those on the bench are Brad Tighe (166), Matt Srama (62), Ryan James (47), Ryan Simpkins (27), Ioane (18) and James Roberts (12) while Paasi has just one appearance (his debut with the Vodafone Warriors last year).
The Vodafone Warriors’ major trial focus is on the encounter with Penrith in Rotorua next Saturday (February 14, 3.00pm kick-off) with the club’s most experienced players being set for that. It means the only NRL players on show tonight will be Peyroux (32 games), Allwood (11), Gubb (6), Pewhairangi (4), Palavi (2) and Poching (1). None of the 10 players on the bench has NRL experience.
NRL TRIAL | TOOWOOMBA
VODAFONE WARRIORS | Viliami Kaveinga; Jarrod Tua, Matt Allwood, Dominique Peyroux, Paul Ulberg; Sam Cook, Api Pewhairangi; Charlie Gubb, Nathaniel Roache, Albert Vete; Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Matiu Love-Henry; John Palavi. Interchange: Marata Niukore, Nathaniel Peteru, Upu Poching, Toafofoa Sipley, Saula Solomona, Stedman Lefau, Willie Peace, Zac Tippins, Ata Hingano, James Bell.
GOLD COAST TITANS | Anthony Don; Kalifa Faifai Loa, Jamie Dowling, Davin Crampton, Leva Li; Jamal Fogarty, Kane Elgey; David Hala, Christian Hazard, Matt White; Jai Ingram, Matt Robinson; Ben Ridge. Interchange: Mark Ioane, Damien Sironen, Ryan James, Kierran Moseley, James Roberts, Ryan Simpkins, Brad Tighe, Matt Srama, Agnatius Paasi, Lachlan Burr.