Nerves, excitement and optimism are just some of the words first-year coach Adam Blair used to describe his group of future One New Zealand Warriors stars as the club’s SG Ball Cup side prepares for its opening match of the year at Redfern Oval on Sunday.
The young group will be the first side in 2023 to run out in One New Zealand Warriors colours, a sentiment Blair made sure to drive home following an intense field session on Thursday.
Sunday’s game will not only be an opportunity for the players themselves to showcase what they've been working on all preseason, but also for the NRL coaches and fans to get a glimpse of the next wave of homegrown talent, Blair said.
“When you look across all junior sports in New Zealand I think we’re blessed with some great athletes and this group is no different," said Blair.
“I’m really excited about some of our outside backs in particular. I don’t know whether they’re eventually going to be centres, wingers, back-rowers or props but these guys you can put anywhere and they will get the job done.
And that message has been key to the boys – to just enjoy rugby league for what it is and have fun with your teammates.Adam Blair SG Ball Coach
“It’s an exciting time for the Warriors. For the fans, for the NRL coaching staff to see this next generation come through and, hopefully, we can keep as many of these kids as we can here, playing in New Zealand.”
For many of the players, it will be their first trip overseas and away from home.
The key messages from the coaching staff have been around having fun and enjoying the moment - while remembering there is a job to be done and standards that need to be upheld, as representatives of the club.
“When I look back to my first trip away with a team, I was just a kid from Whangarei who went over to Aussie to just have fun with my mates,” Blair said.
“And that message has been key to the boys – to just enjoy rugby league for what it is and have fun with your teammates.
“I was nervous, definitely, and these boys are too.
“But that’s just because you’re excited more than anything so, the opportunity is there for these boys to use those nerves and go out there and play some quality rugby league.”
Christchurch-raised Tanner Stowers-Smith has been named captain and will lead his side out against South Sydney on Sunday.