Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Signing Rocco Berry ... ?

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Outside of what Aotearoa Warriors are doing on the field across all teams, there have been a few events or bits of news that have caught they eye recently. This little wave of Warriors recruitment rumours was recently pushed aside by an actual signing as news came through that the Warriors had signed Rocco Berry from St Patrick's Silverstream in Wellington.

I'm not overly fussed about Berry's whanau and sporting history at this stage, all that matters is what the kid is capable of and why the Warriors have apparently signed Berry. From limited highlights, it's clear that Berry is a baller and appears to have a skillset that can translate nicely into rugby league; size to cover multiple positions, footwork and speed to cover all backline spots as well as a passing game that would be lovely for centre or even fullback coming in to do play-making.

There are a few layers to this story that make it so interesting. The first layer is that signing Berry comes after the Warriors have popped up in numerous other rumour-based stories, being linked to anyone who is available in Australia. It's at the point now where it's a bit weird and I'd suggest that Warriors fans, or casual sports fans pay very little attention to rumours and whispers about who the Warriors are chasing.

The Warriors do have some needs and are likely to be searching for upgrades to their roster, but any time I see the Warriors linked to a player in Australia, I zone out. Since the winds of change blew through Mt Smart, the Warriors have gone about their recruitment in a low key fashion and from the outside looking in, we find out about players joining the Warriors when it happens.

Think back to Patrick Herbert, Adam Pompey, Taane Milne and Jackson Frei appearing in off-season training photos, or Josh Curran being signed mid-season without any prior information suggesting that would happen. There has been a savvy vibe in how the Warriors go about their recruitment and being blown up as chasing this player or that, doesn't resonate with how the Warriors actually go about their business.

As you would expect, those players with bigger profiles, get more attention and that's why we do hear of legit rumours such as the build up to signing Kodi Nikorima, Adam Blair, Leeson Ah Mau etc. Those situations are less common though and it definitely feels like a general Warriors recruitment rule to do their work undercover.

In recruiting Berry, the Warriors apparently brought Berry into their set up for a full Warriors experience while in Wellington. Not that any of us knew though, only once Berry was apparently signed, did we learn about the efforts from the Warriors to lure Berry into the whanau. That simply feels more in tune with the Warriors recruitment vibe.

In recruiting Berry, the Warriors have continued with a couple of trends as well. The next layer to this is the link to St Pat's Silverstream, now that the Warriors have recruited two players from St Pat's 1st 15 rugby union in the space of 12 months. Prior to this season, the Warriors signed Neyla Masima from St Pat's after Masima scored three tries in the 2018 Wellington Premiership final.

I believe Masima would have played alongside Berry in that Silverstream team last year and now Masima is part of the Warriors Jersey Flegg squad, having played a few games off the bench this season. The Warriors will change their junior system after this year, with no more Flegg footy and instead an SG Ball team, so Berry won't come into the Flegg team next year - unless he gets some opportunities this year.

Berry, among others, will offer insight into how the change in junior set up is going to work for the Warriors. Since moving away from the NRL Under 20's competition and into Jersey Flegg, the Warriors have brought their 1st 15 rugby recruits through Flegg after they leave school, thus allowing them to play consistent rugby league. SG Ball is Under 18's, but the scheduling could allow 1st 15 rugby players to play SG Ball for the Warriors and then wiggle back into their 1st 15 rugby season. Berry will most likely be too old for SG Ball next season, so we wait and see as to how the Warriors are going to utilise their various pathways.

Dig deeper to the next layer and you'll find the Warriors appearing to set up connections with schools around Aotearoa. This started with Rotorua Boys High School, who delivered Hayze Perham, Tom Ale and Selestino Ravutaumada to the Warriors and now the Warriors have recruited Masima and Berry from St Pat's Silverstream.

RBHS are one of the few schools around Aotearoa to move past their petty pride in 1st 15 rugby and allow their lads to flourish in both union and league, making the connection with the Warriors an obvious one. I'm less tuned into what St Pat's Silverstream are up to, although they feel like a more typical 1st 15 rugby school and that makes it interesting to see if this relationship is built upon moving forward.

The Warriors have recruited heavily from 1st 15 rugby, just like all NRL clubs recruit players from 1st 15 rugby as much as they do from rugby league around Aotearoa. Yet the Warriors weren't overly successful in signing Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Ngani Laumape, Omar Slaimankhel, Albert Vete etc. In pondering the difference now, it feels like the Warriors are hunting higher-calibre players and being more specific in who they do recruit.

Patrick Elia was signed after spending time in Crusaders camps, Eliesa Katoa was signed after being in Blues camps and Masima was a Wellington Under 18 rep last year. Berry went one further to make the Hurricanes Under 18 camp last year and understandably, had no shortage of suitors chasing his signature.

What I have noticed in covering the Warriors closely since the arrivals of Brian Smith, Peter O'Sullivan and Greg Boulous is that the Warriors are stacking their lower ranks with immense talent. I've discussed how the Warriors have Caleb Pese, Jyris Glamuzina, Temple Kalepo, Semisi Sikei, Taniela Otukolo, Sione Moala and William Fakatoumafi from the Aotearoa Residents 18 squad announced earlier this year and despite all these lads being Under 18 eligible, they have been playing Flegg footy.

Add to that, the likes of Phillip Makatoa, Tom Ale, Sean Mullany and Tyler Slade who have all played decent amounts of reserve grade footy this year, as well as the above mentioned 1st 15 recruits and there is not shortage of talent on the Warriors books. These are the pieces to the puzzle that are far more interesting than rumours and whispers of who the Warriors could be chasing.

The issue for those who lack the vision, is that the Warriors are setting up long-term structures and building from the lower levels up. This isn't as sexy as signing players for the NRL team, but is far more important and regardless of what is happening at the NRL level, my hunch is that the Warriors are making all the right moves for the future.

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Peace and love 27.