Winds Of Change Through Mt Smart: (Part One) Later Bo Junior Warriors

Couple familiar faces...

Couple familiar faces...

Remember when a decent chunk of the Warriors identity centred around the success of the Junior Warriors? Looking back, having the most National Youth Championship (NYC - Under 20s) was somewhat meaningless. Despite that though the Warriors' three NYC titles and one Runner Up nod was as good a NYC dynasty as there's ever been. 

Penrith Panthers are the only other club to have multiple NYC titles (with two) and in the nine years that the NYC has been in action (excluding this year), there have only been six winners. This is the last year of the NYC competition and considering the lack of crossover between NYC success and NRL success, the Warriors are bowing out in a rather interesting position as the Junior Warriors currently sit dead last on the NYC ladder.

Not only are the Junior Warriors dead last, they have a -458 points difference and their record at home is a horrible 2-10. At least they have won twice as many home games as they have away with an equally horrible 1-10 away record. That's a fair reason to get your Negative Ned boots on and hate on the Warriors, as they are clearly a club that's flowing up shit's creek without a paddle, or a lifejacket, or a swimming cap to protect their top-knots.

But again, we've got keep this in perspective given that Junior Warriors success did little in the way of helping the Warriors NRL gang. Even in terms of producing high-quality players for the Warriors as only Shaun Johnson and Charlie Gubb are in the current Warriors squad from the 2010 Grand Final winning team, and then Ligi Sao (via Manly Sea Eagles) is the only joker from the 2011 Grand Final.

Of course, people love to highlight how the Warriors have been unable to keep players from the Juniors who then go on to flourish with other NRL clubs. That's true, although it's not quite as prevalent as you may think given that only Sosaia Feki (Cronulla) and Elijah Taylor (Wests) are still in the NRL from the 2010 team, then Feki, Konrad Hurrell (Gold Coast), Sao, Agnatius Paasi (Gold Coast), Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Roosters) and to a lesser extent Siliva Havili who is batting away in reserve grade for the Dragons. 

Combining the 2010 and 2011 NYC Grand Final teams, of the 39 players named only nine players are still in the NRL. Obviously the 30 other players weren't crap because they helped the Junior Warriors win a Championship, but this just shows the disconnect between the NYC and NRL.

The 2014 Junior Warriors is a more recent example and the numbers are slightly better. Nathaniel Roache (who was named at centre), Solomone Kata, Mason Lino, Sam Lisone, Jazz Tevaga, James Bell, Toafofoa Sipley, Ken Maumalo (named on the bench), Ata Hingano (18th man) and Ofahiki Ogden (20th man) are still with the Warriors. Sipley has signed with Manly and Ogden is apparently on the move as well, while Tuimoala Lolohea has left to the Tigers and Brad Abbey moved to the Bulldogs.

Of the 20 players named in the 2014 Junior Warriors Grand Final team, six haven't moved into the NRL. It'll be interesting to check in come 2020, six years after the 2014 team, to see how many Junior Warriors are still kicking around in the NRL. I don't point this out to hate on the Warriors, this merely shows that there are so many variables at play, limiting the influence of NYC success on NRL success.

So when someone talks up how the Warriors development has been terrible because they haven't been able to morph NYC success into NRL success, you can argue that the two are mutually exclusive. Or that Melbourne Storm have one NYC title, or that Brisbane Broncos haven't won an NYC title or that recent NRL Premiership winners such as North Queensland Cowboys, Cronulla Sharks and South Sydney Rabbitohs haven't won a NYC title.

We are moving into some rather interesting times as Stephen Kearney's arrival has coincided with a horrible NYC season for the Warriors. Horrible in terms of performance, yet that's a product of the Warriors rolling out a far younger Junior team that is far better suited to the change in Junior pathways which will come after the end of this year's NYC comp. 

The Warriors now have to suss out how they can give their academy players experience against quality opposition, which ain't likely to be in Aotearoa. Ideally, Under 18 competitions in Aotearoa are at such a level where players don't need exposure against Australian clubs' junior teams, right now though the Warriors will have to send an SG Ball and/or Harold Matthews team over to compete in Australia. 

The Warriors have had to shake up their junior pathways and this is kinda by default but it's also come with Jim Doyle stepping in and Kearney's arrival. Instead of having the glitz and glam of the NYC competition to target, Doyle and Kearney have a different landscape to work with and the only way I can describe this is that I'm incredibly intrigued by what happens now.

You can look at the dramatic 'failure' of the Junior Warriors this season as a negative, but as we do at the Niche Cache, I prefer to look at this as poetic. The NYC and the Junior Warriors offered an illusion, or a veil that hid the reality from eager eyes, now with the NYC about to be cut, the Junior Warriors have not only suffered many defeats, but rather hefty defeats. So much change is going down at the Warriors and the change in junior pathways probably couldn't come at a better time.

The winds of change are already sweeping through Mt Smart.

Peace and love 27.

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