Diary Of An Aotearoa Warriors Fan: Junior Awards

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The only word to describe Aotearoa Warriors right now is weird and they will thankfully wrap up their 2019 season this weekend, while Canterbury Cup and Jersey Flegg couldn't crack finals footy so they are already chillin'. With their seasons finished, the Warriors held an awards evening for their juniors where the Sonny Fai Medal was awarded, along with Clubman of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Education Ambassador of the Year.

Outside of all the weirdness and stinky smell permeating from Mt Smart, the rise of Paul Turner is an intriguing narrative to pay attention to this summer as he tries to crack the NRL squad. Turner won this year's Sonny Fai Medal, as the big-dawg Jersey Flegg MVP and Turner was one of a few Flegg-eligible Warriors who spent a fair amount of time getting reserve grade minutes in Canterbury Cup.

Other notable players who dabbled in both Flegg and reserves were Tyler Slade, Sean Mullany, Phillip Makatoa, Tom Ale and Temple Kalepo. Turner played eight games in Canterbury Cup with six games starting at fullback, one game starting at halfback and one game off the bench. Of those six games in which Turner started at fullback, he won five games and then Turner also had 3+ tackle busts in six of his eight Canterbury Cup games.

Turner hails from Whangarei and played age-group representative footy for Northern Swords alongside Parramatta Eels half Dylan Brown. From there, Turner won the NZRL Under 15's MVP award and linked up with South Sydney Rabbitohs alongside older brother Lee, before both came back to join Aotearoa Warriors. Turner started in the halves for Aotearoa Under 18 in 2017, playing alongside Hayze Perham (Warriors), Mawene Hiroti (Rabbitohs), Jaxson Paulo (Rabbitohs), Sean Mullany (Warriors), Kelma Tuilagi (Storm), Jordan Riki (Broncos), Darius Farmer (Titans), Tyler Slade (Warriors), Joseph Taipari (Eels), Peter Hola (Cowboys), Phillip Makatoa (Warriors) and Steven Marsters).

As far as how Turner could wiggle into NRL footy, similarities between Turner and Perham could offer a bit of a log-jam in the fullback/halves bracket. Perham played fullback, centre and halves this year in Canterbury Cup and while Turner doesn't quite have the size to play centre, he will be an option for fullback or halves next year in reserve grade.

Older brother Lee has popped up with Tweed Heads Seagulls in Intrust Super Cup, where he has also played eight games. That's a weird synchronicity with both Turner brothers playing eight games in either reserve grade competition, although Lee has been named on the wing for the first round of ISC Finals. Lee has played five games at centre and three on the wing, winning six of those eight games and if he can continue to make a solid impression, Tweed Heads are aligned with Gold Coast Titans which could present some opportunities.

Casey Smith won the Education Ambassador award, studying a Bachelor of Engineering while also playing Flegg footy. Smith is one of many who are studying, so chur to them and the Northcote Tigers junior also impressed this season in playing centre and in the halves. As mentioned with regards to Paul Turner, there is no shortage of depth in these positions at the Warriors so it will be intriguing to see if Smith can move through the ranks at the Warriors.

This goes even further, with Sione Moala winning Rookie of the Year. The Manurewa Marlins junior was named in the Aotearoa Residents U18 squad last month, meaning that he is still U18 eligible and has been playing Jersey Flegg (U20s) for the Warriors. Moala also won the Aotearoa U16 Player of the Year in 2018 and in a mark of his class, Moala was named in the National Secondary Schools Tournament Team (St Pauls) in both 2017 and 2018.

Having a half coming through the Warriors system with that type pedigree is a great sign for the club, although again, there is no shortage of depth in that halves position. Whether it's Chanel Harris-Tavita, Perham, Adam Keighran, Turner, Smith or Moala, one would assume that over the next 12-18 months we will see the best start to command further opportunities and others force their way into Canterbury Cup or NRL in other positions.

Wesley Veikoso won Clubman of the Year award, who hails from Palmerston North and was a standout for Palmerston North Boys High School 1st 15 at prop before zoning in on league. Veikoso is a Kia Ora Warriors junior and is yet another Warriors junior with a strong age-group pedigree; Aotearoa U18s (2016), Aotearoa U18 Residents and Aotearoa U18 select team (2017).

With the likes of Chris Satae and Ligi Sao leaving the Warriors, there will be opportunities on the Canterbury Cup bench for next season. Folks like Phillip Makatoa, Preston Riki, Tom Ale and Eliesa Katoa will be the leading contenders for more opportunities in reserve grade and Veikoso could force his way into that group with a strong summer.

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Peace and love 27.