A Storm brewing for Warriors after Newcastle

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013
Nathan Friend
JASON OXENHAM/Fairfax NZ
IN OR OUT?: Nathan Friend met with the club yesterday to discuss his future beyond this season.

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Just when the Warriors didn't need anything else to contend with, along comes the NRL side New Zealanders most associate success with - now with a Kiwi at the helm - and saying they will only be upping their presence across the Tasman.

The Melbourne Storm are everything the Warriors would love to be.

And worryingly for the Warriors, the Storm already appeal as a much more attractive development pathway for New Zealand's best aspiring young league talents.

New Storm CEO Mark Evans wants the NRL club to continue recruiting the best young players from New Zealand. Evans was put into the role last week after Kiwi entrepreneur Bart Campbell was revealed as the major shareholder in a consortium that has bought the club from News Ltd.

Welshman Evans was CEO of Harlequins in the mid-2000s, which coincided with the "Blood-gate" saga when, under club orders, Tom Williams was caught faking a blood injury in order for former All Black Nick Evans to come back on to the field.

Evans has also worked with English Super League club St Helens and was involved in organising the Rugby League World Cup semifinal double header at Wembley later this year.

Despite coming from the UK, Evans has a good knowledge of the NRL and is keen on strengthening the links between the club and New Zealand.

"The Storm have got a long and successful tradition of having a number of our players coming from New Zealand and I expect that to continue," Evans said. "It is the closest city really and obviously the Anzac game between the Warriors and Storm is pretty well established and is a big event.

"Hopefully that will get bigger. We'd like to position it so that it's more of a travel draw for New Zealand fans over the Anzac weekend, but we'll have to wait and see."

Adam Blair, Sam Tagataese, Matthew Duffie, Sika Manu, Jesse and Kenneath Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Tafeaga Junior Sa'a, Lagi Setu are all players who came through at the Storm, while Cade Umaga, son of former All Blacks captain Tana, and Hugh McGahan's son, Matt, are part of the next wave.

The prospect of the Storm using its on-field success to lift profile and recruitment drives in New Zealand will irritate the Warriors who go into today's home clash with the Newcastle Knights under huge pressure.

Ticket sales were frighteningly slow during the week and the season's smallest crowd could be on the cards at Mt Smart Stadium, especially if the wet weather forecast is correct.

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Injuries to Ben Henry and Todd Lowrie have meant that the Warriors team will be different from the one announced on Tuesday.

Carlos Tuimavave will play at centre, Elijah Taylor slots into the second row and Sebastine Ikahihifo gets promoted from the Auckland Vulcans.

Today will be a tough game for the Warriors against a Knights side that took the Bulldogs apart 44-8 last weekend.

In that game Knights captain Kurt Gidley showed impressive form and he is set to be named as the utility player on the NSW bench for Origin I later today.

Before that though, he's keen on adding more woes to the Warriors' season.

"We needed a win like that last week, it was a disappointing game the week before against Canberra, so we needed to turn that around," Gidley told Sunday Star Times yesterday.

"It's about putting in back-to-back performances now and the Warriors are in a similar situation to us from the week before.

"We're all proud of our performances and every time you have a bad one you can't wait until the next game to turn it around.

"I'm sure all of those [Warriors] guys were thinking that on Monday."

WARRIORS vs KNIGHTS

WHERE & WHEN: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, 4pm (Sky Sport 2)
REFEREES: Gerard Sutton & Luke Phillips.

PLAYER TO WATCH / WARRIORS
NATHAN FRIEND: The Warriors' ruck speed has been a big issue for the first-grade side this year – and the focus lies squarely at the feet of hooker Nathan Friend. No one doubts "Friendy's" work ethic, and tackling ability, but the former Titans No 9, and standoff Thomas Leuluai, need to lay a far better base for their side out of dummy half.

PLAYER TO WATCH / KNIGHTS
KURT GIDLEY: The return of Knights legend Kurt Gidley will be a massive boost for his side, given their big win last week over the Doggies in Newcastle. Gidley has been out since May 5 with injury – and will be a key factor in the Knights releasing attacking weapons Darius Boyd and Akuila Uate into the fray at Mt Smart Stadium today

- Sunday Star Times

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