Junior Warriors coach John Ackland is making light of the responsibility of being the club's only representative in playoff football this season.
The Warriors Under-20s finished second on this year's Toyota Cup table to the Bulldogs youth grade team, and will play the Junior Raiders, who finished third, in Canberra today.
The side are bidding to claim their third straight Toyota Cup title, but Ackland, who guided them to their 2010 and 2011 triumphs, said they weren't feeling any heat.
The Warriors' first-grade side, and the Auckland Vulcans, the club's New South Wales Cup feeder team, missed out on their respective top eights after poor seasons.
"I don't know about pressure," Ackland said. "We're still playing, so perhaps it's given some people something to watch for a little bit longer. I wouldn't like to think there's any pressure on us.
"The boys have done very, very well, really. We've played a lot of games with four or five that are going to be able to play for three years.
"We've battled some injuries to some of our key guys, so for them to finish first equal [on points] after 26 weeks is a fantastic effort, really."
Due to the lack of a Warriors first-grade home semifinal, the Under-20s must travel to Canberra, despite finishing above their opponents, who they beat 26-12 last weekend, on the table.
Ackland isn't complaining, however.
"If you want to win [it], you've got to win in Australia, that's the bottom line," he said. "We're looking forward to playing in the semifinal. The boys are all keen. We'd play them in a car park if we had to.
"If we do what we do well, and we stick to what works for us, we'll be very hard to beat."
NRL rookie Carlos Tuimavave will return to the Under-20s for their playoff campaign, after making five first-grade appearances at fullback late in the season, due to the absence of the injured Kevin Locke. Ackland said his presence would be welcomed by the Junior Warriors.
"He can take a lot of confidence out of the way he played for first grade," Ackland said. "I thought he acquitted himself very well in the games that he played, in a tough situation and playing in a position he hadn't played in a long time. It's certainly good to have him back.
"I think a lot of teams, at this time of year, are playing guys that have had some first-grade experience.
"I don't think there's such a thing as a secret weapon in the competition because everything gets watched ad nauseam.
"[But] he's a good player and brings a lot of experience to the team. He's played in two semifinal campaigns, so I'm just hoping he can lift it for us."
Tuimavave will play at standoff for the Junior Warriors today, while Peter Hiku will probably wear the No 1 jumper.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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