Noise of some possible Aotearoa Warriors departures has dripped out in recent days and we have plenty of Warriors funk in the Canterbury Cup and Jersey Flegg squads selected to host Dragons and Victoria Thunderbolts respectively. I'll touch on the possible departures of Karl Lawton and Ligi Sao lightly, because while these whispers feel likely to become reality, when kiwi mainstream media is reportin this information, we as Warriors whanau need to appreciate how the mainstream media gets such information.
The Warriors don't really benefit from leaking this information to the media, instead it's the players who need to find some leverage. With that in mind, the media reporting this stuff are merely regurgitating what player agents are leaking to make it seem as these players are in hot demand and thus driving any price for their services north.
Lawton is the most interesting, especially as it was only a few weeks ago that I put a focus on the dummy half position when Sam Cook departed the Warriors to join Mackay Cutters in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup. With Nathaniel Roache injured and Lawton playing NRL, Cook's departure directly led to Flegg hooker Sean Mullany and Flegg forward Tyler Slade being promoted to reserve grade.
Having started at lock for much of the opening phase of the Flegg season, Slade has twice been named on the bench in reserve grade only to start at hooker. That means that Mullany was named to start but then comes off the bench in a move that I'd suggest has come about because Slade is better equipped to deal with the contact and workload of Canterbury Cup, then Mullany comes on after the hostilities; Mullany has played four Canterbury Cup games, three off the bench and Slade's got two reserve games both starting.
The last two games has seen this combo rolled out and there has been a nice juggling of minutes from coach Nathan Cayless. Slade has started both games, but round 11 saw him play 34 miuntes with 51 minutes for Mullany and then that flipped for round 12 with Slade playing 55mins and Mullany 25mins. Interestingly, this has resulted in the Warriors putting up a win, then a draw recently after going win-loss throughout the season.
How does this relate to Lawton? A clear development move has been made by the Warriors in moving two players who are still Jersey Flegg eligible (under 20), into Canterbury Cup and while Slade didn't play much hooker for Flegg, both Slade and Mullany are primarily sharing hooking duties in reserve grade.
If the Warriors allowed for Cook to leave, knowing that Roache is consistently battling injury, they obviously have confidence in the potential of Mullay and Slade. In super simple terms; the Warrios have already let one reserve grade hooker go and by all accounts appear willing to let another fringe NRL hooker go. That's because there is a veteran who is capable of playing 80mins in Issac Luke, there's a back up in Roache, there is a job-doing option in Jazz Tevaga and there are two prospects in Mullany and Slade.
Mullany and Slade aren't bums. Mullany was the Aotearoa Under 18 hooker in 2017, the Junior Kiwis hooker last year and is likely to repeat that dose this year, while Slade was in the same Aotearoa U18 team as Mullany in 2017 and represented Aotearoa Residents U18 last year. These two have been consistent Aotearoa reps and their development, is most likely viewed as more important than upgrading Lawton's contract.
As for Sao, the Warriors have plenty of options to cover his absence in the future. This week, Chris Satae benefits from Sao's absence and that could continue, while Jackson Frei is someone to keep close tabs on throughout the remainder of this season as he has worked his way from the reserv grade bench to starting and being named in the wider NRL squad. Leivaha Pulu is also in the mix and is yet to feature in the NRL squad, while Taane Milne is getting a fair amount of game time as an edge forward in reserve grade.
All of those four lads have the ability to step up to NRL, while the likes of Preston Riki, Tom Ale and Phillip Makatoa form the young wave generating momentum to put pressure on the older lads. Whether it's at hooker, or in the forward pack, the key point here is that the Warriors have established a pattern of depth in the lower grades that needs to be highlighting as it otherwise goes unnoticed.
I'd go a step further and throw up the idea of this Warriors Jersey Flegg team having an abundance of NRL prospects, who could slide into NRL contention over the next 18 months. Riki is the best of the crop because he's a Canterbury Cup soldier (too old for Flegg I think), then Ale and Makatoa are joined by Eliesa Katoa and Brody Tamarua in the talented prospect bucket. Anything's possible and many of this Flegg forward pack could graduate through the ranks, which is epitomised by one of the younger Flegg lads in Jyris Glamuzina who has steadily been named on the Flegg bench and is one of the most decorated juniors in Aotearoa.
Right, let's crack into the teams named for this week. Starting with Canterbury Cup, named by coach Nathan Cayless...
Fullback: Adam Pompey.
Wings: Gerard Beale, Edward Kosi.
Centres: Hayze Perham, Solomone Kata.
Halves: Adam Keighran, Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Middles: Jackson Frei, Sam Lisone, Leivaha Pulu.
Hooker: Sean Mullany.
Edges: Blake Ayshford, Taane Milne.
Bench: Tyler Slade, Preston Riki, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Phillip Makatoa - Clayton Williams, Cole Waaka, Paulos Latu.
Gerard Beale has since been named to replace Patrick Herbert in the NRL team, so Cole Waaka or Paulos Latu could replace Beale. Other than that, this is a fairly settled reserve grade unit and the only bit of insight to offer is that the Pompey/Perham situation remains with Perham now operating as a centre and Pompey working his way into the starting fullback role.
Here is the Jersey Flegg team named by Greg Boulous...
Fullback: William Faktaoumafai (Otahuhu).
Wings: Selestino Ravutaumanda (RBHS), Harley Maynard (Pt Chev).
Centres: Ray Tuaimalo-Vaega (Marist), Kayal Iro (Mt Albert).
Halves: Paul Turner (Hikurangi Stags), Sione Moala (Manurewa).
Middles: Junior Pua (Manurewa), Michael Lemafa (Otahuhu), Brody Tamarua (Muriwhenua).
Hooker: Richard To'ai (Otahuhu).
Edges: Eliesa Katoa (Tamaki College), Tom Ale (Mt Albert).
Bench: Casey Smith (Northcote), Isaiah Vagana (Mt Albert), Jyris Glamuzina (Ellerslie), Toni Tupouniua (Marist).
William Fakatoumafi returns to fullback in place of Emanuel Tuimavave-Gerrard, while there is no Temple Kalepo at hooker this week with Richard To'ai starting and Casey Smith coming off the bench. That edge forward combo of Eliesa Katoa and Tom Ale feels rather dangerous and we are graced with the knowledge that Katoa's immediate Flegg future will have him on an edge.
As Phillip Makatoa is up in reserve grade, coach Boulous has opted to start Brody Tamarua in the middle having mainly been used on an edge. This allows for Katoa to start on an edge. Toni Tupouniua has been called on to the Flegg bench and we haven't seen too much of Tupouniua this season (if at all); he and brother Havi both featured in the Christchurch trials earlier this year and Havi has played Under 20s for the Warriors before. They may be related to Sitili Tupouniua who has been fabulous for the Roosters this season as they share the last name and all three come from Marist Saints in Auckland.
The Flegg team are reppin' their junior clubs today in wearing their club socks, hence their junior clubs have been named with the individuals. Here is an overall count of the junior club representation...
Otahuhu Leopards - 3
William Fakatoumafi, Richard To'ai, Michael Lemafa.
Mt Albert Lions - 3
Kayal Iro, Tom Ale, Isaiah Vagana.
Manurewa Marlins - 2
Sione Moala, Junior Pua.
Marist Saints - 2
Ray Tuaimalo-Vaega, Toni Tupouniua.
Northcote Tigers - 1
Pt Chev Pirates - 1
Ellerslie Eagles - 1
Outside Auckland/Aotearoa - 4
Paul Turner, Brody Tamarua (both Northland), Selestino Ravutaumada (Rotorua), Eliesa Katoa (Tonga).
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