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At the end of each week of pre-season training Warriors players based in Auckland and the NSW town of Kiama gather to listen as the coaching staff read out GPS data for the two squads.

According to assistant coach Craig Hodges, who has been working with the Australian-based players, it is one of the highlights of the week as each group wants to out-perform the other.

“They are loving the fact that we have another group in another country that is doing all the same training and they compare times, and compare distance covered and metres-per-minute, and all of those things,” Hodges said.

“Each week when the times go up from the other mob over the ditch our boys can’t get there quick enough to see where they fit and anything they win they are very happy to point out to us.”

With border restrictions and a shortened pre-season leaving the Warriors little choice but to split the squad into Australian and New Zealand groups until the new year, coach Nathan Brown and his staff have needed to be innovative.

Brown is in Auckland with the majority of the squad and most of the club’s resources, while Hodges and fellow assistant Justin Morgan are overseeing training for up to 18-players at Kiama until the two groups come together in Tamworth on January 3.

Warriors' top five tries of 2020

Each group videos their training sessions and uploads the footage onto Hudl so all of the coaching staff and players can access it through an app.

At a team meeting attended by on Tuesday, Hodges and Morgan showed the players vision from the previous day’s session and similar drills performed by the group training in Auckland.

“It has been good because we watch their clips and they watch ours so we can keep track of the New Zealand-based boys,” prop Kane Evans said.

“It actually makes it more like a competition so it is driving everyone to be a better player. All the footage is connected through an app and we can just watch their sessions compared to ours.”

Evans is one of seven new faces in the Warriors squad for next season and all except Tongan forward Ben Murdoch-Masila, who is yet to report for pre-season duties, were training in Kiama on Tuesday.

Former Dragons centre Euan Aitken still lives in Corrimal but stays at Kiama during the week for training, while forward Jack Murchie makes regular visits to his mother in nearby Gerringong and head of rehabillitation and athletic performance Mark Andrews is from Minnamurra.

Despite being unsure when he will be able to move to New Zealand after the announcement last Friday that the Warriors would be based on the Central Coast until April, Aitken said the training set-up had made it easier for the players to get to know each other.

“Never before has an NRL squad been split in half for pre-season so it is a unique situation but it has been enjoyable,” Aitken said.

“For me, going to a new club, usually you’d have to meet 40 people on your first day but it has only been a small group so it has been easy to build some relationships and get around everyone.”

Warriors recruit Euan Aitken.
Warriors recruit Euan Aitken. ©Brad Walter/NRL Photos

Former Canterbury back Marcelo Montoya said: “Being in a smaller group has helped us to get to know each other a bit more because you are able to mingle with the boys and learn about them and what they are about, but in terms of fitness you are in the eyes of everyone so there is nowhere to hide.”

Until the arrival of Kodi Nikorima and Wayde Egan this week, rookie halfback Sean O’Sullivan was the only playmaker in the Kiama-based squad so he trained with the forwards.

“I got to work on some core skills like catch and pass, what hand you carry the footy in and I got to work on my defence a lot, which you can always do more of, so it was really good,” Sullivan said.

Hodges said having two smaller groups had meant that training was more skills focused than usual, while it was also good for team bonding.

However, the coaching staff needed to work longer hours to ensure that the two squads were doing the same session each day.

To prepare for the following day’s work-out, the coaching staff have a daily Zoom meeting at the conclusion of training.

“Not only are we in different countries, we are in different time zones so logistically it takes a bit more organising,” Hodges said.

“When they are training we are asleep and when we are up and training they are finished so they have got to hang around of an afternoon for our Zoom meetings but I think we have made the best of a unique situation and it is going to be a real positive for us.

“The end goal is to come together as one team but we are certainly learning off some of the things they are doing over there and from what they are telling us they are doing the same. They watch all of our stuff and they pick up different things and we do the same here.

“Having the smaller squad has been really intimate and it just fast-tracks the relationships but the negative is that we have got no relationships with the blokes that are over in New Zealand.

“But when we get together in January we will be able to spend some time with them because we have built solid foundations with these guys here.”

Acknowledgement of Country

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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