Stacey Jones appointment a bold move

BIG RESPONSIBILITY: Warriors great Stacey Jones will coach the Junior Warriors in 2014.
BIG RESPONSIBILITY: Warriors great Stacey Jones will coach the Junior Warriors in 2014.

The new broom at Mt Smart continues to sweep the changes, with Junior Warriors coach John Ackland on his way at the end of the season and Stacey Jones in the hot seat.

It is a bold move to appoint the 261-game Warrior to the high-profile role. Yes, he has mana and a wealth of league experience but, save for coaching Auckland's Pt Chev Pirates with Awen Guttenbeil, his credentials are pretty slim. Can the Little General guide his Juniors to the Australasian league youth competition promised land just as he led the Mt Smart team around the paddock in his heyday? Time will tell.

Ackland's departure was more telegraphed than a Feleti Mateo offload. Talk of a rift between new Warriors coach Matt Elliott and the Juniors mentor had been well publicised, though Elliott was on record once again last week saying no animosity exists.

The club is keen to make the transition a smooth one. But the suspicion is that behind the scenes this has not been an entirely bloodless coup.

Ackland has been the resolute - some would say grumpy - face of the Juniors since 2010. In that time the team have won the U20 title twice, in his first and second year as coach, and were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round last year.

That's a pretty decent record by anyone's standards.

With ever-changing personnel, Ackland has kept the side performing and developed youngsters into NRL stars - such as Shaun Johnson and Elijah Taylor in 2010 and Konrad Hurrell in 2011.

You could argue he is to league what Gordon Teitjens is to rugby sevens.

Many will question why the club is getting rid of him at all.

Whether Ackland quit or was pushed is a moot point. This is more about the Warriors organisation regaining control of its youth side. Ackland wanted his U20s side to have the best players on offer. This has led to salary cap issues for the Juniors.

Elliott prefers a franchise model where the reserve grade team - the Auckland Vulcans - features the more talented U20s youngsters. It comes down to a clash of philosophies and the appointment of Jones means Elliott won.

The losers in this whole affair may be the Warriors themselves. Next year Ackland may well be scouting for other NRL teams or coaching an U20s side against the Juniors.

Warriors fans may also suffer. A Juniors side without its stars - who will be playing reserve grade - will invariably not reach the highs of the past.

Jones was a great servant to the Warriors. If anyone has the standing to influence these league kids in a positive way, he does. But there is no doubt what lies ahead for the Little General is shaping as his toughest battle yet.

- Todd Murray is Fairfax Sundays sports editor

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