NZ WARRIORS <Vodafone-Warriors>
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|Junior Warriors too good for South Sydney in final||10/3/10|
| A 30-point second half rampage carried the Junior New Zealand Warriors to the club's first premiership crown when they beat South Sydney 42-28 to win the National Youth Competition (NYC) rugby league grand final in Sydney.|
It was the fifth time a team from the club had reached a grand final since entering the competition but this was the first bid that had ended in triumph.
Previously the Warriors lost the 2002 National Rugby League grand final, the reserve grade grand finals in 1996 and 1997 and the under-19 season finale in 1997.
The Junior Warriors suffered a setback before the game when captain Ben Henry was ruled out with an ankle injury. With Henry out, Henry Chan-Ting was called up to start at hooker with Elijah Taylor going to the second row and also taking over the captaincy.
The Junior Warriors were narrowly ahead 12-10 at halftime but were in dazzling touch in the second half as they piled on four tries within 13min to take a commanding 36-10 lead after 64min.
A lull in proceedings followed as South Sydney was able to score two converted tries to reduce the margin to 22-36 with 11min to go, but soon after player of the year Nafe Seluini sealed victory for his side with a well-taken try.
With Shaun Johnson nailing his seventh conversion in as many attempts, the Junior Warriors were 42-22 ahead and knew they had claimed the club's first title.
Taylor relished being back in the second row, grabbing two tries as he chased down grubber kicks while Johnson took his NYC career points tally beyond 400 points with his 14-point haul.
Glen Fisiiahi's try was his 20th of the year and Siuatonga Likiliki's was his 19th in what was his 50th and last game in the competition.
Second rower Sam Lousi benefited from a stunning off load by Johnson to score his first try of the year.
After finishing second in the regular season, the Junior Warriors finished the year with an overall record of 19 wins, a draw and just seven losses and stood out as the competition's best defensive team.
NZ WARRIORS 42 (E Taylor 2 G Fisiiahi S Likiliki E Niko N Seluini S Lousi tries S Johnson 7 goals)
SOUTH SYDNEY 28 (J Roberts J Vaivai N Peats B Judd J Tulemau tries A Reynolds 4 goals)
|Junior Warriors unchanged for final||9/29/10|
|The Junior New Zealand Warriors are set to remain unchanged for the NRL under-20 premiership grand final against South Sydney in Sydney on Sunday.|
Coach John Ackland today named the same side used in last Friday's 23-16 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs.
While captain Ben Henry was forced from the field with an ankle injury against the Bulldogs, he has been named to play and said he expected to be able to face the Rabbitohs.
Interchange hooker Nafe Seluini will again line up to complete a season in which he will have played in each of the team's 27 matches, the only player in the squad to do so.
The Junior Warriors' win over the Bulldogs carried them into their first under-20 grand final and the chance to give the club its first premiership.
It is Ackland's second coaching experience on the final day of the Australian competition season, having guided the Warriors' under-19 side to an unsuccessful outing in the 1997 grand final.
Three other grand final appearances also ended in defeat when the Warriors lost to the Sydney Roosters in the 2002 NRL decider and the club's reserve grade side were beaten in back-to-back grand finals in 1996 and 1997.
Junior New Zealand Warriors: Glen Fisiiahi, Omar Slaimankhel, Sosaia Feki, Siuatonga Likiliki, Elijah Niko, Carlos Tuimavave, Shaun Johnson, Neccrom Areaiiti, Elijah Taylor, Mark Ioane, Matt Robinson, Ben Henry (captain), Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Nafe Seluini, Charlie Gubb, Sam Lousi, Daniel Palavi, Henry Chan-Ting, John Palavi.
|Disappointment as Warriors matchwinner leaves||9/26/10|
| Warriors coach John Ackland shook hands on a fresh two-year deal a day before piloting his under-20s side to next Sunday's Toyota Cup grand final - but his matchwinning player has rejected a new contract with the club.|
Ackland's side didn't lead until the 67th minute, but edged a seven-point win over the Bulldogs on Friday night to secure their first-ever final appearance which was sparked by a searing break from hooker Nafe Seluini to create Glen Fisiaahi's late winner.
But while Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said he was ''delighted'' Ackland would be staying on, Seluini has rejected an off-season training contract with the first grade squad to sign for Penrith.
Up to nine of this side will play first grade next year, although only five of those with the Warriors. Backrow Matt Robinson, winning tryscorer Glen Fisiaahi and wing Ivan Penehe - absent on Friday with a knee injury - have senior contracts for next year and half Shaun Johnson and hooker Elijah Taylor are already in the club's senior squad. But Seluini is off to the Panthers, prop Mark Ioane has signed for Canberra, wing Elijah Niko for Melbourne and centre Siuatonga Likiliki has been recruited by Newcastle.
''That's what happens,'' said a sanguine Ackland.
Asked about Seluini, he said: ''I'm pleased for him, he's worked hard at his game, he competes hard and hsi defence has improved significantly. He's a very streetwise little football player.''
Ackland says skipper Ben Henry is in doubt for Sunday's Grand Final after leaving the field early with a twisted ankle and he will add Joe Mua and John Palavi to a 20-man squad which won't travel until Saturday.
That late departure is in keeping with their usual routine, and his players will also be expected to still work and study all week and train in the evenings as usual. ``We won't change a thing,'' he said.
The come-from-behind win was also typical of Ackland's men. The game was scoreless for half an hour, but the Bulldogs went 10-0 up, one of their tries from Aucklander Paki Afu, before two tries in four minutes just after halftime from Warriors' Afghanistan-born wing Omar Slamainkel levelled the scores again. Giant substitute Sam Lousi made the first, smart work by Taylor created the second, but the Warriors fell behind again and didn't bring the scores level for a third time until halfback Shaun Johnson's feinting run through a bemused Dogs defence just after the hour. Johnson's field goal gave them the lead for the first time, and with four minutes to play, Seluini's burst was finished expertly by Fisiaahi for his 19th try of the season.
''The boys have done that all year, kept fighting,'' said Ackland. ''They hung in. You have to keep sticking at things - that was a really good team we played and you can't expect an easy win.''
|Junior Warriors into grand final||9/24/10|
|The New Zealand Warriors under-20s side are bound for a history-making grand final curtain raiser to the NRL premiership decider after eliminating the in-form Bulldogs 23-16 at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.|
The Warriors erased a 10-point halftime deficit to finish their preliminary final strongly, though the outcome was in doubt until a 76th minute break out try to fullback Glen Fisiiahi.
Impressive playmaker Shaun Johnson had poked the Warriors ahead 17-16 with a 68th minute field goal but the New Zealanders had to survive two anxious moments before advancing to their maiden grand final against the winner of tomorrow's match between South Sydney and the Canberra Raiders in Sydney.
The Bulldogs, who had only lost once since round seven, threatened to steal victory in the final 10 minutes but try-bound fullback Nathan Massey spilled a difficult pass then Daniel Palavi was denied when Carlos Tuimavave knocked the ball from his grasp on the line.
A week-off did not initially look like working wonders for the Warriors as they made an error-prone beginning.
Gifted a weekend off after squeezing past Manly 25-22 in round one of the finals series, the Warriors struggled to rediscover the accuracy and verve that enabled them to complete the regular season in second place.
Tuimaivave underscored their nervous start when he failed to grasp an offload with the line open in the 19th minute; four minutes later camera angles were to blame when giant wing Elijah Niko's barge over from dummy half was ruled out because replays were inconclusive.
The Bulldogs belatedly ended the stalemate in an unusually low-scoring encounter with eight minutes left in the first half when unmarked prop Pakisonasi Afu was put through a gap by halfback Josh Kent, the play after front rower and captain Martin Taupau burst 30 metres to set up rare field position.
The Warriors unsuccessfully argued defenders were obstructed in the lead-up to Kent's killer pass - there was doubt about the Bulldogs second barely two minutes later when wing Ratu Tagive dived over in the left hand corner to push the lead into double figures.
Clinical finishing by Afghani-born wing Omar Slaimankhel resuscitated the Warriors with two tries within 10 minutes of the restart - though neither score did Johnson any favours.
Slaimankhel, who was only playing because Bill Tupou's 12 first grade appearances made him ineligible, dived over out wide from a short side move moments after Sam Lousi was held up by desperate defence.
From the restart the Warriors swept on to attack again via a 50-metre gain by centre Sosaia Feki before the ball was transferred to the right flank where Slaimankhel again forced with centimetres to spare.
Johnson, using his first conversion as a sighter, goaled from an identical angle to cut the margin to two points before Bulldogs five-eighth Aiden Sezer's converted try restored a six-point buffer entering the final quarter.
Johnson's weaving 25-metre run past three defenders to the posts levelled the contest with 18 minutes remaining and on the Warriors next incursion the halfback coolly slotted a field goal that almost wasn't enough.
NZ Warriors 23 (Omar Slaimankhel 2, Shaun Johnson, Glen Fisiiahi tries; Johnson 3 goals, field goal)
Bulldogs 16 (Pakisonasi Afu, Ratu Tagive, Aiden Sezer tries; Sezer 2 goals).
|Manu Vatuvei highlights greater consistency||9/16/10|
|New Zealand Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei says consistency was the key to his prolific year with the National Rugby League (NRL) club.|
Vatuvei's NRL season was capped off by being named the Warriors' player of the year last night.
"I was a bit more consistent than other years," he said.
"When I came back this year, I started where I ended and that's something I wanted to give to the team. I wanted to play the best I could every week and improve all the time."
While Vatuvei, 24, was the frontrunner for the award, he said he was surprised to head off fellow contenders Lance Hohaia, Micheal Luck, Sam Rapira and Jerome Ropati.
"I was one of the nominees, but I never expected to get it," he said.
"All the guys that were nominated played well and showed what they could do. I'm grateful and privileged to get it."
Vatuvei, who also took the fans' award for player of the year, finished with 20 tries in his 19 appearances, missing six matches because of a hamstring injury.
His touchdown in the qualifying final loss to Gold Coast last Friday night was the 78th of his career and took him past Stacey Jones as the top tryscorer in the club's history.
He also equalled club records for tries in a regular season (19 set by Sean Hoppe) and tries in consecutive matches (seven set by Todd Byrne).
For Vatuvei, the disappointment of failing to go further in the playoffs hasn't dissipated.
"The Titans are a good team and we had to play to another level to beat them and it wasn't enough," he said.
"We were hoping we had a second chance and we thought we did, but it wasn't our time. Hopefully we can learn from what we did this year and take it on to next year."
The defeat to Gold Coast was the first of three results that went against the Warriors last weekend and abruptly ended their campaign.
The second was Wests Tigers' marathon golden-point defeat to the Sydney Roosters after the Tigers had appeared to have victory wrapped up with just seconds to go in normal time.
It was an emotionally draining match for Warriors fans to watch and no different for Vatuvei.
"It was pretty tough," he said.
"I don't know how upset I was. I never want to watch that match again."
Vatuvei last month re-signed with the Warriors until the end of 2013 and he believed the club had a strong platform for pushing on next year.
The core of the squad was staying on and the Warriors' focus on being a development rather than a recruitment club meant there was plenty of talent coming through in the Junior Warriors, who have made it into the last four in the under-20 Toyota Cup.
Vatuvei's sights now turn to the Kiwis and the Four Nations tournament in October and November.
|Vatuvei named Warriors player of year||9/16/10|
|Warriors cult hero Manu Vatuvei capped an outstanding NRL season when he was last night named the 2010 Player of the Year at the club's annual awards dinner in Auckland.|
In claiming the club's supreme accolade, Vatuvei, 24, became the first back in seven years to win the award and only the fourth in the Warriors' 16 seasons in the Australian competition.
The previous backs who have won the award have been Tea Ropati (1995), Stacey Jones (1997) and Francis Meli (2003).
While Vatuvei missed six games through a hamstring injury this season, he is widely considered by fans and pundits alike to be the NRL's best winger and one of the game's most influential players. He finished the season with 20 tries from 19 appearances and moved past Jones as the club's all-time record try-scorer with 78 in 113 matches (Jones scored 77 in 261 games).
Recently re-signed until the end of the 2013 season, Vatuvei won the award from a short list of Lance Hohaia, last season's player of the year Micheal Luck, Sam Rapira and Jerome Ropati.
Vying for the young player of the year title were second rower Lewis Brown, standoff James Maloney and second rower Ukuma Ta'ai. Maloney, in only his first full season in the NRL, won the award. He appeared in all but one of the club's 25 games, scoring 188 points, the second highest tally in a season in the club's history.
It was further recognition for the former Melbourne half who was a finalist for the standoff of the year at the Dally M Awards last week and was yesterday named in the Australian Rugby League Prime Minister's XIII to play Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on September 26.
The Clubperson of the Year was awarded to hooker Aaron Heremaia, who is also the club's nominee for the Ken Stephen Medal, the supreme award recognising the outstanding contribution by an NRL player in the community each year.
After making 11 appearances in his NRL debut season in 2009, Heremaia played all 25 games in 2010, a feat matched by only one other team-mate, prop/second rower Ben Matulino.
Apart from his efforts on the field and around the club, Heremaia also earned his Kiwi debut in this year's Anzac Test against Australia and excelled himself with his work in the community.
|Junior Warriors eye their grand final||9/13/10|
| The Junior Warriors are proudly carrying the club's flag through the playoffs after edging Manly to get within sight of the NYC grand final.|
With the senior Warriors eliminated from the NRL finals in the wake of Friday night's loss to Gold Coast, John Ackland's Juniors stepped up to restore some pride yesterday.
Fullback Glen Fisiiahi scored two brilliant second half tries as the Warriors eliminated Manly 25-22 in Sydney.
The victory earned the second-ranked Warriors a week off as they were catapulted straight to week three of the playoffs.
They had trailed 6-16 after a sloppy first half but rebounded in style after the break.
Fisiiahi's searing pace was in full evidence as he struck in the 41st and 58th minutes while captain Ben Henry and winger Bill Tupou also scored to take the Warriors out to a 24-16 lead with 11 minutes remaining.
Shaun Johnson added a field goal before Manly crossed in the dying stages of the contest to close the margin to a flattering three points.
In other week one NYC finals South Sydney edged Gold Coast 24-22, North Queensland hammered the Sydney Roosters 46-12 and Canterbury-Bankstown overwhelmed Canberra 54-18.
Gold Coast and Manly were both eliminated while South Sydney joins the Warriors in advancing to week three.
In this weekend's semi-finals North Queensland faces Canberra at Canberra Stadium on Friday and Canterbury-Bankstown takes on the Roosters at Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday.
|Warriors try machine successfully tackles improvement||9/9/10|
|Manu Vatuvei can seemingly score tries at will but it is improved defence that is giving the powerhouse Warriors wing the most satisfaction heading into the NRL finals.|
Vatuvei will be out to make the club's try-scoring record his own against the Gold Coast Titans on Friday night. He sits equal on 77 with Warriors legend Stacey Jones at present after scoring 19 tries this year.
But while he has provided the finishing touches to the improved Warriors' attack this season, there's a general consensus that the team's bolstered work on defence has been at the heart of their surge into the playoffs.
Vatuvei, who overcame a weakness under the high ball to make that a deadly weapon, has put in plenty of work with his tackling and defensive lines to improve this areas on the vulnerable left side of the Warriors.
"Defence has been a weakness of mine," he says with his usual honesty.
"It's something that I have worked on and improved every week. I have noticed that I have improved a bit and that's been pleasing for me."
But it's his try-scoring abilities that make Vatuvei so special and the reason why the club shook their bank balance to re-sign him. He is arguably the best finisher in the NRL right now with his regular season tally equalling the Warriors record set by Sean Hoppe.
Having overcome some niggling injuries Vatuvei reckons he is playing better than ever but says he has plenty of improvement left in him.
"I'm more confident now ... I've matured and I know what I need to do," Vatuvei said. "I do my job, I try to come off the field feeling good and knowing that I've done all the stuff I needed to do for the team. I'm happy with my form but I think there is improvement every week."
He says the Warriors are motivated to win on the Gold Coast on Friday night, knowing victory would bring them a home match next weekend.
"For sure. We don't want to lose and hope the other teams lose to give us a second chance. But anything can happen here because the Titans will be a big test for us, we have got to make sure that we play for 80 minutes with our defence and attack ... never giving up for the whole game because they are an 80-minute team.
"We are the underdogs so the pressure is on them, but it's about who wants it the most."
He has felt a lift in the squad over the past couple of weeks with the playoffs a reality.
"All the boys are really confident that we can back each other up. We are pumped, especially the young guys who are having their first taste of finals footy. It's great to make the final eight and be in finals footy again - it's going to be a great vibe there."
Vatuvei said the addition of tackle machine Michael Luck was a timely boost for the side with defence so crucial now. Luck has overcome a horrific leg cut to return to the pack.
"He's a bloke that wouldn't want to miss finals footy and even though he will have a scar there he will want to play. He's the type of person that if he had a broken arm he'd still want to play. He's really tough and the sort of guy we need in the team. He never gives up and he lifts all the boys up with everything he does."
|Warriors' centre Brent Tate fizzing for finals||9/9/10|
|Finals time is Brent Tate's time and the experienced centre feels he's peaking nicely as the Warriors prepare for tomorrow night's NRL playoff with the Titans on the Gold Coast.|
The Broncos never missed making the finals during Tate's eight years in his beloved Brisbane. When he crossed the Tasman to join the Warriors in 2008 the New Zealand franchise qualified for the business-end of the championship.
Not surprisingly with Tate absent with a major knee injury last year the Warriors faltered.
Despite another season punctuated by injury, Tate has come good over the back half of the campaign and so have the Warriors.
Now both the man and the team are fizzing to be in the finals again.
"I think the last couple of weeks my own game has been a lot better," the 28-year-old says with a good deal of pride.
"I'm feeling good heading into the finals and I'm looking forward to it as much as these younger boys are."
Tate has been at the heart of the Warriors' improved defensive effort this year and he's also starting to show his line-breaking abilities as well.
But it's Tate's cool head that will be crucial to the Warriors.
What advice does he have for the less-experienced players around him heading into one of the most difficult venues at Skilled Park, Robina?
"Don't get caught up too much about playing the Gold Coast. We just have to really concentrate on our own back yard. If we play the footy that we can play for 80 minutes we are going to be a chance of winning the game just as much as them," he says.
"While we might be down a little on experience compared to them we have some guys who are great players and a lot of young guys who are so keen and they are ready.
"I think defensively we have been really strong ? that's probably been our biggest asset. And it's going to have to be pretty good against the Titans because they have plenty of attacking options with Preston Campbell, Scotty prince and Mat Rogers."
The Warriors might have been restricted to just two training sessions because of their travel but the short week doesn't worry Tate. He believes it may be a blessing for a team high on confidence.
"I think the quick turnaround might be a good thing for us. We're straight back into it and we don't have too much time to dwell on what's ahead of us. We can just get on with the job, get out there and give it a crack.
"They are a bloody tough side. Both games that we have played them, we have been right in the contest and we have just let ourselves down with patches where we have dropped off. The Gold Coast are a team that makes you pay for that.
"So we just have to put a complete performance together. This game isn't going to be won in the first 20 minutes - it's going to be won late in the back end of the game."
With Tate leaving the club at the end of the year to join the North Queensland Cowboys, he's desperate to prolong his time in Warriors colours as long as possible.
He would love nothing more than a win in Queensland tomorrow to give the Warriors a home playoff next week.
|Luck confident with leg as Warriors look to up ante||9/7/10|
|New Zealand Warriors loose forward Micheal Luck is confident he can last the full 80 minutes of the National Rugby League semifinal against the Gold Coast on Friday night after coming through a tough training regime.|
Luck returns to the Warriors for the trip to Queensland after missing the last two matches of the regular season because of a nasty gash to his left thigh suffered in an accident involving Manly forward Anthony Watmough's boot.
He came through a rigorous session today which followed a week of training last week that he described as hard as any he had had since the pre-season.
"I gave it everything that I would come Friday night so I'm confident," he said.
Luck's inclusion is the only change to the starting 13 from the past fortnight, which have brought wins over Brisbane and Parramatta.
It will his third finals campaign with the Warriors, having also been part of the 2007 and 2008 playoffs.
He said the group dynamic was a little different this time around, with him being one of the oldest Warriors at 28, rather than one of the younger ones.
However, there was a good balance between experience and youth, between those who have been in a finals series before and newcomers who couldn't wait to take part, he said.
"It's just a matter of not being caught up in the occasion that's about to confront us, do what we do well and do it well as we can."
While many pundits didn't give the Warriors much hope of making the post-season at the start of the year, Luck said he wouldn't be satisfied unless the club reached the grand final.
He said the Warriors always knew they had the goods to finish in the top eight.
"This is basically the same side we had last year when people were tipping us for good things, and last year we didn't play well and you saw the result of it," he said.
"This year, we found a gameplan that works for us and we've been defending pretty well and this is what happens. But we won't be satisfied until we're there in the first weekend of October."
One of the keys to the Warriors' change of fortunes this season was their results over the second half, when they won nine of their 12 matches, and a big part of that was their defence.
In their last five outings, they have conceded an average of just 11 points, and Luck, one of the defensive stalwarts of the team, said the reason was attitude.
He pointed to the match against Parramatta last Saturday when the Warriors withstood some patches of heavy pressure before running away with a 26-12 victory.
"Parramatta are a very hard side to defend against and there were guys that made some outstanding individual efforts on our tryline to stop them scoring tries," he said.
"Simon Mannering made some plays that were match turners and he made four or five of them, and that's attitude, that's not wanting the opposition to cross your tryline."
Luck said the Warriors would have to up the ante again against the Titans.
"You can't be happy with what we've done so far," he said.
"You have to make sure now it ramps up even more."