'Killer' sessions start Warriors' exorcism

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012
Warriors
Getty
HARD YAKKA: Kevin Locke leads the Warriors squad on a fitness drill yesterday.

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It doesn't matter who you are: take one look into the Warriors' rear view mirror for 2012, and you'll immediately regret you did.

The scene slowly, but surely, disappearing behind you is an ugly one; one where the smoke is still rising from the ruins of what has just passed.

Eight consecutive losses - the club's worst in first-grade.

Top level players who appeared to stop trying.

A popular first-year coach struggling with the intensity of the NRL before getting the chop, and an, at-times, bumbling search to find his replacement.

Newspaper column inches have been plentiful and far from complimentary on the Warriors. How could it all go so wrong so quickly, fans and media asked. Who is to blame, and why? Heads have rolled. People have walked.

And while the new era, under former Raiders and Panthers boss Matthew Elliott, has begun at Mt Smart Stadium, the view ahead, for many, remains unclear.

As expected, all the talk about the new regime, and approach, was positive at the Institute of Sport on Auckland's North Shore yesterday. There the first-grade squad have been conducting the first week of their pre-season training. The days have been long, with the lads starting at 7.30am and not leaving until 5pm, and the workouts brutal.

New head trainer Carl Jennings, who has formerly pushed the Canterbury Crusaders and NRL Raiders to the edge, has been as tough as the reputation that preceded him.

New sports science manager Brad Morris has been leading the team in wrestling training, while the typically testing afternoon training of Kiwis legend Ruben Wiki has been as taxing as ever.

"The session this morning nearly killed us," prop Jacob Lillyman admitted. "But there's no easy way around it. We need to rip in, get fit and get ready to attack it next season."

Pre-season will always be hard work, regardless of your team, or sport. But you can notice in the faces of the Warriors players, and the words of the new coaches and trainers, that there's added steel around the unit these days.

Perhaps the biggest illustration of the changing of guard for the Warriors, and its approach to football, is the huge supporting cast Elliott has at his disposal.

In addition to Jennings, Morris and Wiki (all in full-time roles), Elliott has new assistant Ricky Henry to rely on, as well as another No 2 soon to be on the way. The contrast to the lack of resources that Brian McClennan had to help him this year is striking.

Though he shares a sincerity in character to Bluey (he shakes the hands of each of the players every morning before training), Elliott is a vastly different coach than the former Kiwis boss.

Affable, slick and savvy in front of the media, Elliott is one tough cookie when the cameras are put away.

The players describe him as a "black and white" coach. If you do something well, you are afforded a knowing nod. If you bugger something up, the Thursday Island native will let you, and your team-mates, know.

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He is firm, and uncompromising - qualities that fans will hope can be transferred from the training paddock to the spine of his team in next year's NRL.

The new regime have "drawn a line in the sand", according to Jennings.

"Last year is gone - forget it. We know where we coming from, sure, but where we are headed is far more important.

"We need to be proud of our history and everything that came before us, but we drew a line in the sand first day of training on Monday.

"It's what we do next that counts. We don't want to dwell on the past. We want to create a successful future, and a future built on the back of hard work."

- Stuff

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