Not long to go now until Aotearoa Warriors spark up their 2019 NRL season and the last piece of business has been sussed with 29 players listed in their NRL contract gang. These are top-30 squads, with one spot open for a a mid-season squeeze which could see the Warriors hit the market prior to June 30 and snap up someone from those silly Australian clubs.
Alternatively, the Warriors could promote from within. It all depends primarily on what their needs are as we wiggle through the first half of the season and whether those needs are best met from within, or hitting the market. As the Warriors lost Shaun Johnson and James Gavet since the initial top-30 lists were announced, there were spots up for grabs, although not exactly in those positions and roles.
Patrick Herbert, Taane Milne and Jackson Frei are the additions. Herbert and Milne bolster the outside back depth, with Milne being an option at centre as well as offering some funky depth at edge forward. Herbert offers all sorts of versatility having played in most backline positions during his few years over at St George Illawara Dragons. The focus will be on Herbert covering centre and wing, don't sleep on Herbert's ability to be a less certified version of Peta Hiku; Herbert's shown the skill to play fullback and halves at reserve grade level, Hiku's done it at NRL and international level.
Both Herbert and Milne are most likely behind Gerard Beale in the outside back depth chart, with Beale starting the season as the odd man out. I believe Stephen Kearney will play it safe in terms of selection to start the season, so to have Beale, Herbert and Milne as well as Blake Ayshford is an absolute luxury with regards to depth. This may be the best outside back (including fullback) depth we've had at Mt Smart in a long time.
Frei is an interesting inclusion and is unlikely to see any NRL footy this season as a middle forward. Well, that's the case right now and the door is open for Frei to command selection ahead of guys like Ligi Sao, Tevita Satae, Leivaha Pulu and Sam Lisone. Given that Frei was initially signed as a development player, one would assume that he has impressed over the summer on the training field and has earned this top-30 spot.
Offering a bit of size, Frei has a minor point of difference to the other forwards via his height. Having come through the Roosters system to play a bunch of games for Wyong Roos last season, Frei is joined by Adam Pompey and Phillip Makatoa in making the move from the Roosters to Warriors. All three played for the Roosters Jersey Flegg team last year and Makatoa made a mid-season switch back to Auckland with Pompey and Frei following after the season finished.
This is most likely due to the Peter O'Sullivan connection and while O'Sullivan wasn't with the Roosters last year, he would have played a role in initially luring Pompey and Makatoa across the ditch, as well as getting the Frei whanau from Queensland to the Roosters. Whether it's snaring three lads from the Roosters junior system, or signing Herbert and Milne who played a combined four years of Junior Kiwis footy; the Warriors low-key-underground recruitment has improved drastically under the new regime.
Another note; don't assume Chanel Harris-Tavita is alone in battling Adam Keighran for the halves spot. My hunch is that Keighran has the nod with Harris-Tavita and Perham being on the same level behind Keighran. Much of the mainstream media talk has zoned in on Harris-Tavita, however I simply have a vibe that Perham will showcase his talents with consistent selection in the halves in reserve grade.
Last year Perham played fullback for the reserves and while he may slot in there again this year, I reckon he'll play alongside Harris-Tavita in the halves. If Perham gets that opportunity, expect him to take it.
If you've read this far, you're a hearty Aotearoa Warriors fan and I want to finish by saying how excited I am for this season. A lot has changed at Mt Smart since I started writing about the winds of change sweep through our favourite footy stadium and confidence has been built on top of strong foundations. Unlike previous seasons when high expectations were thrown up without anything substantial beneath them, I've done a lot of writing about those foundations being laid over the past 12 months and this is the first time that I genuinely feel as though the work has been done to put the club in a great position.
Do not listen to Australian media. They don't know about what's happened other than the surface level changes and given what a shambles Australia is, we should all be quietly confident and proud of what Aotearoa Warriors has become. Then be excited about what could happen from this point on. Kia kaha.
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Peace and love 27.