Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: More Trials, Less Insight


The second NRL trial is always a wee bit more important than the first, although I must stay straight up and remind youz that trials are trials. After a squad of young bucks went over to Australia to face Melbourne Storm last week, coach Stephen Kearney has named a squad to face Wests Tigers in Whangarei, that generally resembles what we'll see in the NRL this season.

Prior to the NRL trial, there will also a reserve grade trial against the Tigers' reserve grade team Western Suburbs Magpies. Last week the reserves were in Christchurch playing vs Canterbury Bulls, this week they are up in Whangarei and just like the reminder that trials really are a bit meh; the good vibes of the Warriors hitting different pockets of Aotearoa to service those rugby league communities is lovely.

There isn't much funk in the top-tier aspect of the NRL trial, as those who are fit and in contention for NRL selection will take part. Kearney only named a squad, without positions and that means that we'll have to chill on sniffing around the predictions on who will play where. Again, all of that's meh and lacks genuine funk, until the first squad for round tahi comes through.

The funk sits in the players who have been named in both squads, thus giving insight as to who is on the brink of NRL footy. The reserve grade squad does have positions, which clarifies a few queries in that group for largely unknown prospects. Patrick Herbert, Karl Lawton, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey, Leivaha Pulu and Ligi Sao have been named in both squads; perhaps a sign that they won't get too many minutes in the NRL trial.

As far as ramifications for Pulu and Sao go, they were always going to be competing for a bench spot and thus in the gap between NRL and reserves. Chris Satae is the only forward in the reserves who has featured in the NRL group, but wasn't named in the NRL trial and one could think that this means Satae is a bit further down the pecking order. We have no idea about workloads, fitness, injuries or anything, so don't go too far down that route of coming to conclusions about pecking orders based on trials.

Lawton has been named to start and hooker for the reserves, with Sam Cook coming off the bench. Nathaniel Roache is in the NRL trial squad, which lays out the dummy half depth at Aotearoa Warriors and neither squad features Sean Mullany. Mullany could have just had a train and trial contract, cutting off before the second trial, or he could still be Jersey Flegg eligible, or he could play club footy in Auckland and be in the reserves squad. Lawton and Cook will play most weeks as the reserve grade hooking rotation, leaving Mullany as the depth option.

The time has officially come for us to chuck Hayze Perham in the halves bucket. Paul Turner has been named at fullback for the reserves in a slightly odd move as he's mainly played as a half or hooker and Perham's in the halves alongside Api Pewhairangi. Perham played all last season at fullback for the reserves (straight out of high school) and now looks to have graduated to being a half, so expect him to get some minutes there in the NRL trial.

Without Perham, there is still plenty of fullback depth; Peta Hiku, David Fusitu'a, Gerard Beale and perhaps Adam Pompey.

Patrick Herbert's swift rise through the off-season levels was rather predictable. As a two-year Junior Kiwi, Herbert was one of the best #KiwiNRL prospects while at St George Illawara Dragons and slid between centre, wing and fullback for the Dragons Jersey Flegg and reserves. Funky note: Herbert's two years in Junior Kiwis came after Taane Milne had two years at centre for Junior Kiwis ... both are on the Warriors books.

That is to say, that when Herbert appeared at Mt Smart for summer training, it was fairly easy to suggest that he'll be pushing for an NRL spot in 2019. Another who returned to Aotearoa from an Australian club in Adam Pompey (Roosters), didn't have the same clarity surrounding his move to Mt Smart though.

You don't get recruited to the Roosters out of Wesley College, if you aren't talented and driven to deal with consistent weekend trips to play footy in Australia. Nor do you play reserve grade for Wyong Roos while still being Jersey Flegg eligible, if you're not talented. Yet, Pompey didn't have the same CV as Herbert and was/is a reasonably unknown quantity.

Pompey is in the NRL trial squad, while also named with Herbert as the centre pairing for the reserves. Both Pompey and Herbert are super versatile, so to lock them in as centres now, would be foolish and they are better known as 'outside back prospects'. Along with Taane Milne (seems to be injured) and Neria Fomai (named on wing for reserves), the Warriors have welcomed four outside back prospects who all have decent upside to bolster the depth in these positions.

Fomai, Pompey and Herbert will all be in action for the reserves, with Pompey and Herbert then flexing in the NRL trial. Right now, it feels like Herbert is closest to the NRL, while Fomai, Pompey and then Milne will need to suss out consistent footy in reserve grade before sliding into NRL contention.

One last name to pay attention to is Tom Ale, another Rotorua Boys High School 1st 15/1st 13 product. Ale is excessively versatile and won the National Secondary Schools Tournament Team Player of the Tournament award in 2017, also making the tournament team alongside his RBHS and now Warriors comrades Perham and Selesitino Ravutaumada. Ale started at prop for the Junior Kiwis last year and starts at prop for the reserves this week.

Having been at school in 2017, Ale is most likely still Jersey Flegg eligible in 2019. I highly doubt Ale will play much, if any Flegg footy this year though and how he develops through the year could be one of the fun narratives to keep tabs on at Mt Smart.

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Peace and love 27.