Warriors recruit Nielsen buzzing for debut
After grand final victories, State of Origin series wins and an All Stars match, an NRL trial fixture in Hamilton would understandably not be a career highlight for the Warriors' Dane Nielsen.
However he is buzzing at the prospect of taking the field for his new club.
After five seasons with the Melbourne Storm, which followed one year at the Cronulla Sharks, the 27-year-old has linked up with the Warriors, and this afternoon at Waikato Stadium he will pull on their jersey for the first time, in the club's second trial match of the season, against the Penrith Panthers.
In recent seasons Nielsen fired for the ultra-consistent Storm and rep honours came his way, with three Queensland State of Origin matches over the past two years.
Having signed for the Warriors midway through last year, Nielsen still spent five weeks of the pre-season in Melbourne, before he, and later his girlfriend, made the shift across the Tasman.
The 1.88cm, 97kg centre enjoyed his time at the Storm but felt like a change and after talking to family and friends, as well as former Warriors James Maloney and Brett Seymour, he decided Auckland was the best option.
Nielsen's loving his time so far and he's wanting to pass on his experience and learn from others around him to help turn around a season from hell the club endured last year.
"Playing at that top level, you learn a lot, not just from the coaching staff but the calibre of players you play with," he said. "It's helped my game out a lot and if there's any area where I can help individuals or help this team out, that's what I want to do. I want us to be the best that we can be as individuals and the best that we can be as a team.
Nielsen, who was under hard task master Craig Bellamy at the Storm, said the Warriors would be striving for consistency in results this year and felt preparation would be key to winning games.
"No-one wants to have a big, hard pre-season, go through the whole year just to not make the semis," he said. "The boys are very disappointed in how last year turned out. And the blokes that are still here from last year, they don't want to go through that again, and neither do I, I want to try my hardest and I want us to try our hardest to be there at the end of the year."
Nielsen said the players had so far adapted well to new coach Matt Elliott and in terms of strength and conditioning, they were at their peak, now just wanting to get the match fitness up and fine tune the little parts of their games.
Last weekend Nielsen got his first run "out of the way" though it was hardly a stroll, as he lined up in the Indigenous All Stars side which beat the NRL All Stars in Brisbane.
"It was a real eye-opener for me," he said of that game.
"It was a great time, it was great for me to be able to learn more about my culture and give back to the community. It was something I was very proud of and something I'd love to do again in the future."
Nielsen is now looking forward to showing his wares today.
"It's been a long, hard pre-season, I'm just looking forward to getting some combinations, getting some time in the Warriors jersey and hopefully just looking to work on a lot of things we've done in the off-season," he said.
"I played 40 minutes on the weekend [in the All Stars game] so I'd like to think that I'd play 40 minutes again this week or even a bit more, because I want to be playing the full 80 minutes come the last trial before we start round one."
A vastly inexperienced Warriors lineup went down to a strong Titans side in the Gold Coast last weekend, but today the big guns are all back to fire some shots.
Elliott said usual first-liners will likely play between 50 and 60 minutes and the team would be looking to "find some rhythm" so they feel confident playing together.
"We've got a style of play that we'll need to evolve, so we'll look just to play some real foundation footy," Elliott said.
In a blow to the team, as well as the family and friends who were going to be on hand to watch Sam and Steve Rapira, the brothers from Hamilton have both been ruled out of the match with niggling injuries.