One New Zealand Warriors players of the future will have the honour of launching the club’s first full home-based season since 2019 when they kick off their campaign in the S G Ball Cup (under-19) next month.
It starts offshore against South Sydney on Sunday, February 5 before the team plays the first of its home games a week later against Manly Warringah.
In doing so it will also have the distinction of being the first One New Zealand Warriors side to play at the rugby union venue which used to be the celebrated Jonah Lomu's playground.
Now known as Navigation Homes Stadium, the Counties Manukau Rugby Union’s base in Pukekohe will host the One New Zealand Warriors three times in the short-form S G Ball competition.
The S G Ball side was the only one of the club’s teams to play official competition games on home soil in 2020 before its impressive debut was cut short by the Covid pandemic.
And now the side will reprise that effort in a competition renowned as a prolific breeding ground for future NRL players.
After being forced to operate out of Australia for the last three seasons, the One New Zealand Warriors begin a new era with a return to the stable of teams they started with in 2020 in the NRL, New South Wales Cup and S G Ball.
It’s a rebirth distinguished by a new club name, new coaches at all levels and a slew of new NRL signings.
Tasked with guiding the club’s most promising prospects in the S G Ball is Adam Blair, whose prolific playing career included 331 NRL appearances – 65 for the Warriors – and 51 Tests for the Kiwis.
After retiring at the end of the 2020 season Blair stepped into coaching at development level and now has his first full-time role.
He and his staff have had an expanded squad in preseason training since early November incorporating an inter-squad trial before Christmas with another this weekend and the final hit-out next weekend before the season starts.
Apart from their three home games in Pukekohe against Manly (February 12), St George Illawarra (February 26) and Western Suburbs (April 2), the young Warriors play the Sydney Roosters at the Trusts Arena in Waitakere on March 12 and Canterbury Bankstown at Mount Smart Stadium on March 26. Their away games are against South Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Penrith.
When the 2020 S G Ball was cut short by the Covid crisis, the Warriors were running second equal on the ladder just a point behind the leader Newcastle after winning four of their first six games.
Included in that squad were current NRL squad members Viliami Vailea, Taniela Otukolo, Otukinekina and Valingi Kepu as well as contracted juniors Ali Leiataua and Zyon Maiuu.