The importance of the Auckland Vulcans coach's job is to get a whole lot bigger next season, and Willie Swann wants to be the man to have that responsibility.
This year, at the insistence of Warriors coach Matt Elliott, two of the club's best prospects, Ngani Laumape and Siliva Havili, have both been playing in the reserve grade NSW Cup, even though they are still eligible for the Junior Warriors.
Laumape has since gone one step further and made it into the NRL, and this is just the start of how Elliott wants to transform the Warriors, with more of the talented youngsters getting moved to the Vulcans.
Stacey Jones will replace John Ackland as the Junior Warriors head coach next season, but the second most important team at the organisation will be the Vulcans.
"The old philosophy was that you had the colts, the reserve grade and then the first team and that was the natural progression," Swann told Sunday News.
"If they're good enough (in the under-20s) they're going to be fast-tracked to the Vulcans, and hopefully after that they'll be good enough and tough enough to make it to the first grade."
Swann, who played for Samoa at the 1995 and 2000 world cups, feels that the Vulcans is an important stepping stone on a player's journey to the NRL.
"In the NSW Cup you've got NRL first graders playing in it, so there is quality in the competition," Swann said. "The emphasis of not making errors and a strong mindset in defence are habits you need to have in the NSW Cup.
"In the under-20s there is a lot of attack and 40-38 type scorelines, so trying to get that first grade mindset early on for players coming into the Vulcans is really important, because you can't afford to make those errors."
Swann has had a rapid rise up the coaching ranks at the Warriors. In February 2012 he was appointed Warriors development coach and subsequently the former Warriors player was named as the Junior Warriors' assistant coach.
Swann held that position a short time before being given the Vulcans job and he says it's a role he wants to continue with.
"I was appointed on a one-year deal," he said. "Hopefully if things go well I'd like to have another crack at it.
"I am a qualified teacher (at Liston College), and doing two jobs takes some juggling, but I enjoy both roles."
The Vulcans play Cronulla Sharks in the first game at Mt Smart Stadium today, and again they'll have Jerome Ropati playing centre for them.
Injuries have limited Ropati to just two games for the Warriors this season and although he has been running freely for the last few weeks, he hasn't been able to make it back up to the first grade side.
"Unfortunately, he has been plagued by injuries and this is the second time he's come back to the Vulcans," said Swann. "He has been solid for us, and what he's been able to pass on to the younger ones, with his knowledge and experience has been great.
"He has got a lot of respect and mana amongst the team, so when he talks people listen."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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