Warriors coach Ivan Cleary is braced for a pedantic start to the NRL season as referees stamp their authority early, looking for a cleanup of the basics of the game.
That's already been seen during the Warriors' two trial games where penalties have come thick and fast, particularly around the play the ball areas.
The Warriors have been working with two NRL referees over the past two days, including a long session today at Eden Park which will be the scene of their season-opener against Parramatta on March 12.
The Warriors today unveiled a special jersey for that match which is being billed as the "Battle of Eden".
They will wear an all black strip that features the Warriors logo framed by two silver ferns.
"Playing at Eden Park is such a huge event in the club's history so it's appropriate we have produced this special kit to mark the occasion," Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said.
Rugby league has been played at Eden Park on only two other occasions - the 1988 World Cup final and last year's New Zealand-Australia and England-Papua New Guinea Four Nations double-header.
The upcoming match will also be the first time the Warriors have taken a home fixture away from Mount Smart Stadium since they entered the NRL in 1995.
Cleary meanwhile has been delighted to get some first-hand input from the referees and try to get things sorted out before they roll into business against the Eels.
With refereeing great Bill Harrigan in charge of the whistlemen, Cleary expects a tighter line on many of the basic rules – as simplistic as getting tougher on players being onside at kickoffs and dropouts.
But it's the play the ball area that remains the key and Cleary says there appears to be a closer eye on the attacking team than the tacklers.
"In the last two (trial) games we have given away nine penalties in possession and that's the cardinal sin," Cleary said.
"I think there's probably more focus for the refs on the guys playing the ball than making the tackles. Hopefully we can get those down. It's good to be able to do it in the trial period."
And that was the key for Cleary – he'd rather sort it out now than get surprised in the opening rounds.
So he's been delighted to get a feel from the referees.
"It's one thing to hear or read about it or get told, it's another thing to actually see the actual refs and the trigger points they look for.
"It's been really enlightening the last couple of days ... they have given us an understanding of what they look for and how much leeway they will give."
Is there the concern of it being too pedantic?
"That's a big question," Cleary replied. "I think it is at the moment but I think in fairness to the referees they are just trying to put their foot down now. I think in the trial period they want to make that change in the players' mindset so that by round one there are less penalties purely because they have actually broken some old habits that have been built up in the last few years.
"We'll see how the fans take that. But it's pretty clear that for the opening games you have to be right on the money."
-Stuff.co.nz, with NZPA
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