Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Cheers James Gavet + Underground Signings

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All the young bucks with a point to prove have started training at Mt Smart and the New Zealand Warriors veterans aren't too far behind, as the ripples of player movement between NRL clubs hold low key influence underneath the surface water. On the same day as James Gavet all but confirming a move to Newcastle Knights, the Warriors confirmed the signings of Adam Keighran (Penrith Panthers), Taane Milne (Mounties), Adam Pompey (Roosters), Jackson Frei (Roosters), Eliesa Katoa (Tamaki College), Selestino Ravutaumada (Rotorua Boys High School) and Neyla Masima (St Pats Silverstream).

I'll start with Gavet and I view this as a fairly simple case of Gavet getting a better offer. In the reporting around Gavet's departure, it has been suggested that Gavet fell out of favour with coach Stephen Kearney for a few minor discipline issues. While I'm not here to debate whether that is true or not, I'm not all in on believing that is why the Warriors were willing to part with a guy who has grown and developed nicely during his time with the Warriors.

The first note on that is Kearney worked with Gavet at Brisbane Broncos when Kearney was an assistant coach to Wayne Bennett. Kearney consistently started Gavet and gave him a platform for Gavet to become a very solid NRL middle forward, to the point where Gavet earned interest from other NRL clubs. Other NRL club who are willing to upgrade Gavet's current contract.

Context is important here, because we have very recently seen the Warriors tell Shaun Johnson that he can test the market ... just like they told Issac Luke that he could test the market. In the space of six months, this trend has exploded out of Mt Smart and for those who can't see the obvious; the Warriors are fine-tuning how they spend money. As I alluded to when writing about the Johnson situation, this is all because the Warriors now have leverage in such negotiations as they have sorted their shit out.

The Warriors are willing to let Johnson and Luke test the market, so if Gavet gets a better offer, based on what the Warriors have done with guys who are more influential than Gavet, of course the Warriors will let him snap up that better offer. I appreciate Gavet, he added something unique to the Warriors forward pack and he is now an example of what the Warriors can do for a player; enable a player to develop and earn an upgraded contract.

However, Leeson Ah Mau has been signed and is highly likely to be a starting middle forward. Then it becomes a case of doing the business ting, where other forwards who are on cheaper deals than Gavet are competing with Gavet for a bench spot (either Gavet or Agnatius Paasi would drop to the bench). Why upgrade Gavet's contract when you have younger/cheaper forwards who can do a similar job and over time develop into better players than Gavet?

Leverage is the key here. The Warriors now know that they have the systems in place to sign and develop better talent, allowing them to trust their own ability to get the most out of fringe NRL players. Simple business really and perhaps the off-field indiscretions hold some weight, no where nearly as much weight as the financials though.

In terms of team implications for nek season, there may be another signing or two to keep an eye on, but this is how I view the Warriors forward back as of now;

Middles: Paasi, Ah Mau, Blair.

Edges: Harris, Papali'i.

Bench: Tevaga/Roache, Afoa, Pulu, Satae ... Sao, Lisone.

If the Warriors don't sign anyone else, this is great news for Ligi Sao and Sam Lisone who have found themselves on the outer this year. They have a path back into the mix and will be eager to impress this summer, competing with Tevita Satae for some bench action.

Then we flow into the confirmation of Adam Keighran and Taane Milne joining the Warriors. I wrote about Keighran here, and then I covered the Milne signing here. All that I'll add to this news now that these signings are official, is that I don't think the Warriors will be signing Patrick Herbert as had been reported by around the way. They still could though.

The Warriors confirmed that Paul Turner had been bumped up to a development contract and the Northland product has been on the Warriors roster for a few years now so this isn't too funky. Back in August, Rotorua Daily Post reported that Selestino Ravutaumada had signed with the Warriors, joining the ever-growing list of RBHS league/union players to move up to Mt Smart. The Warriors then confirmed this in their announcements yesterday and Ravutaumada is an outside back, who is one of the best prospects from either code in that outside back bracket.

Ravutaumada joins Eliesa Katoa in coming straight out of high school into a development contract - as opposed to going through Jersey Flegg to a development contract. Katoa was a monster for Tamaki College and was selected for the Blues Under 18 camp earlier this year. I'm not sure if this is the real Eliesa Katoa, but here's some Youtube footage of a #8 named Eliesa Katoa playing back in 2016, in what appears to be Tonga and if this is the Eliesa Katoa we're thinking of, he would have moved then moved to Aotearoa;

Either way, this Katoa kid is just another 1st 15 rugby union prospect who has made the move to league and the same goes for Neyla Masima, from Wellington who joins the Jersey Flegg group. Masima was in the Wellington Under 18 team this year and is a lock, who just happened to score a hat-trick in the 1st 15 final this year between St Pats Silverstream and St Pats College.

The influence of Peter O'Sullivan may already be evident in any one of those signings/recruitment moves, but in signing Adam Pompey and Jackson Frei, we can see O'Sullivan's filthy mits all over these moves. Both Frei and Pompey have come from the Roosters system, having most likely been recruited into the Roosters system by O'Sullivan when he was working with the Chooks and now they are both at the Warriors when O'Sullivan moves to the Warriors. Chuck in Taane Milne, who came up through the Roosters Under 20s and it's blatantly obvious that O'Sullivan's doing a handy job.

Both Frei and Pompey played most of this season for the Roosters Jersey Flegg team, with Frei at prop and Pompey at centre. Although, Frei played three games in reserve grade and Pompey played one game, meaning that while still being eligible for U20s footy, they got a run in reserves. Frei is the youngest of four brothers who have been around the NRL for the last few years and joins the Warriors on a development contract.

Milne is only on a trial contract and the same goes for Pompey, who we'll have to keep a close eye on this summer. Pompey was signed by the Roosters out of Wesley College a few years ago and returns to Aotearoa after frequent trips between Auckland and Sydney while he was in SG Ball, before settling into Jersey Flegg footy. O'Sullivan would have played a major role in getting Pompey (and Milne and Frei) to the Roosters, so I'd suggest that Pompey is only here for a trial contract because O'Sullivan reckons he can make the most of it and win what will likely be a reserve grade contract thingy.

Unfortunately, in super underground news, the Roosters have announced their Jersey Flegg summer squad which features Christian Tuipulotu. The Warriors had Tuipulotu on their books and he's consistently been viewed as one of the best prospects coming out of Aotearoa, but the Roosters made a huge play to sign him in flying him down to Queenstown to meet their NRL squad. Now it's confirmed that Tuipulotu will be with the Roosters and in 2018, with such lovely vibes coming out of Mt Smart, that's all good.

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Peace and love 27.