Without the influence of Daniel Anderson as Warriors coach, Shaun Johnson may have been lost to the game and the club may not have survived to again be on the cusp of an inaugural NRL premiership.
That’s the opinion of former Warriors stars who played under Anderson when he took charge of the new look club as an untried coach in 2001 and guided the team to an historic grand final just a year later.
The NRL and all 17 clubs will this weekend unite for Daniel Anderson Round to raise funds for the former Warriors and Eels coach, who suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury late last year after a body surfing accident.
Anderson, who now works in recruitment for Sydney Roosters, is a life-long servant of the game and has also achieved success with St Helens and the Kiwis.
However, there is nowhere he left a greater legacy than the Warriors, who have re-named their home ground Daniel Anderson Stadium for Friday night’s match against Manly.
When Anderson began his coaching career in Auckland, the future of the Warriors was clouded as the previous incarnation had folded and the NRL had undergone a culling process to reduce the number of teams from 22 to 14.
With South Sydney fighting to overturn their expulsion and other clubs only reluctantly agreeing to mergers, it was a bold gamble by new Warriors owner Eric Watson to hire the little-known Anderson from Parramatta’s lower grades.
“When Ando rang me up at the World Cup in 2000 to say that he was the new coach, I was like ‘Daniel Who?’,” former Warriors captain Monty Betham said.
“I was playing for Toa Samoa and, apparently, he was ringing everyone around the squad, and just having a chat with them to let us know that he was going to be the coach when we returned.”
Former Queensland Origin forward Kevin Campion was another to receive a phone call from Anderson while he was playing at the World Cup for Ireland and the rookie coach convinced him to abandon plans to move to Super League.
“I was going to Warrington and Daniel was just a young, unknown coach they brought out of nowhere, but I looked at the roster and saw Ivan Cleary, Justin Morgan and, of course, the great Stacey Jones, so I thought that's a better option,” Campion said.
The Warriors had always boasted a talented playing roster but in their first six seasons before Anderson’s arrival the club had never qualified for the finals.
Under Anderson, the Warriors made the finals for the first time in 2001 and the grand final in 2002 to secure the club’s future as fans from around New Zealand got behind the team.
“Twenty years on, people still talk about the early 2000s and even say that was probably the best era of the Warriors,” Betham said.
“There have been some huge achievements since, but I think if it wasn’t for Ando being the tip of the spear and bringing all the guys through that a player like Shaun Johnson wouldn’t have played rugby league because he wouldn’t have seen Stacey play with that flamboyancy.
It was a very attractive style to watch, we really enjoyed playing it and I think it really did take the country by storm.
“The country stopped when we were going through the play-offs in 2001, especially in 2002, also in 2003 when we were one game off another grand final."
Jones, who along with Morgan is now an assistant to Warriors coach Andrew Webster, said Anderson’s impact on the game in New Zealand went beyond the on-field success.
“It was more the fundamental side of the game, which was something that probably wasn’t as appreciated as much until Ando came to the Warriors and delivered a message that if you don’t get that right then you are not going to play first grade footy,” Jones said.
“He certainly bought a belief to the group, and we had a real good combination of players with guys like Campo and Ivan, and a good mixture of some good young Kiwi players.
“He just blended it well together and he probably took every player in that team’s game to another level, and we all appreciate what he did for us.”
Lance Hohaia, the only Warrior to play in the 2002 and 2011 grand final teams, is thankful to Anderson for developing him from a raw teenager to a Kiwi international, who played 266 NRL and Super League matches, as well as 28 Tests.
"He really changed the way I played and thought about the game,” Hohaia said.
“Truthfully, in New Zealand, there wasn’t a high quality of coaching below the professional ranks, but Daniel for the first time in my life pushed me and challenged me a lot. I didn’t like it at the beginning, but I grew to enjoy it.”
Betham also described Anderson as a great man manager, whose positive approach to the game inspired players to want to perform for him.
“He just has a way with people and for me, with his manner, his calmness, the way he would inspire you to be a better version of yourself and the belief that he showed in you as well, I took to him straight away,” Betham said.
“When I speak to him on the phone, he is one of those guys I don’t want to hang up on because he just loves rugby league and he knows so much about rugby league.
“He is a very smart man when it comes to rugby league and I am glad he is not lost to the game because he still has a lot more to offer.”
Most of the Warriors players from the 2002 grand final caught up with Anderson last year at the 20th anniversary re-union and many of them also attended the recent Unite for Daniel fundraiser at Royal Randwick.
Campion said the decision to re-name One Media Stadium after Anderson for this weekend’s clash with the Sea Eagles was a great tribute but it would be even better if the club can finally win that elusive premiership, with Johnson leading the way.
“I know the place has been packed for every home game, but it will be a special day with the stadium named after him,” Campion said. “I think that is a great honour for him.
“History shows that in just two years under Ando we made the grand final and it was a special time for everyone.
“The Warriors have had some very big highs, and they've had some lows over the last 20 years, but it's still a great club and I think they're on the right track at the moment.”
A special online auction to raise funds for Daniel Anderson will take place between August 15 and August 22 with signed and worn jerseys from every NRL club captain up for grabs from Round 25 NRL matches.
Clubs have also donated premium catered boxes and match day experiences for season 2024 as part of fundraising for the former Parramatta Eels and Warriors coach.
In addition, James Graham has donated his four St Helens Super League Championship Medals, while St Helens Captain James Roby has also donated his signed and worn jersey.
Supporters can bid for items via FAN+ (fanplus.com) or donate via Daniel Fund | Unite for Daniel (danielandersonfund.com.au).
The Warriors have also provided a number of packages for auction through the Daniel Anderson Support Fund, including lunch with coach Andrew Webster and incoming All Blacks coach Scott Robertson.