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It's been a season in which the current group of Warriors have gone close to matching some of their long-standing records, and come Saturday the club's class of 2002 will be well represented in the coaching ranks as well. 

While Ivan Cleary – the goalkicking ace fullback from that side – aims to get Penrith through to the preliminary finals for the fourth year in a row at BlueBet Stadium, club great Stacey Jones and former prop Justin Morgan, who were also part of that side 21 years ago, will be plotting the biggest upset of Finals Week One in their roles as assistants to Andrew Webster. 

With the Warriors achieving seven wins in a row, as well as a regular season with more than 15 wins, for the first time since that side did so in 2002, the Kiwi outfit have naturally drawn comparisons to that group in the latter stages of this season. 

Ahead of facing Cleary in the qualifying final, Morgan told the same characteristics that made him a great teammate have led to him becoming a two-time premiership winning mentor. 

"What you see in Ivan as a coach was also the type of player he was, for sure. He was always very measured, cool under pressure, but at the same time fiercely competitive," Morgan said. 

"I loved playing with Ivan and he always had the attributes to be a really good coach – a great communicator with a really good understanding of the game.

It’s no surprise to me that it’s how his team plays. His team plays with a level of calmness and maturity just like he did.

Justin Morgan

It serves as a reminder of how influential many of those Warriors players from the turn of the century have remained, both at the club and across the wider game. 

In addition to the Cleary, Jones and Morgan, former utility Motu Tony is now the general manager of football and high performance at the New Zealand Rugby League, while winger Justin Murphy has had a long career coaching in France.

Panthers v Warriors: Finals Week 1

Monty Betham, Kevin Campion and Awen Guttenbeil are ambassadors for the club, while Wairangi Koopu serves as the Warriors' cultural advisor. 

Ali Lauitiiti, Jerry Seuseu and Clinton Toopi all work in wellbeing roles at the NZRL, Warriors and NRL respectively. 

For Morgan, who will depart the Warriors at the end of this year to take up a role as an assistant to Todd Payten at the Cowboys, it's made his second stint in New Zealand all the more enjoyable. 

"It’s great having those guys still around and I really do appreciate it, but it's not until you sit down and remember the times you had together that it hits home," Morgan said. 

"Time really flies and it's hard to believe that was 21 years ago. 

Justin Morgan celebrates a try during the 2002 season with Motu Tony (left), Wairangi Koopu (centre) and Ivan Cleary. ©NRL Photos
Justin Morgan celebrates a try during the 2002 season with Motu Tony (left), Wairangi Koopu (centre) and Ivan Cleary. ©NRL Photos

"For Stace [Jones] and I, we have made some new memories over the past four or five years and we have been through a lot together.

"I basically lived with Stacey while we were in Australia and we went through the COVID pandemic.

"It's going to be great to be back involved in the finals. It's been quite some time for me... it's this time of the year that you love being involved."

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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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