Sam Tomkins to make Warriors debut at Nines
Warriors wonder signing Sam Tomkins won't get to play against his former club, Wigan, next month and instead has been told he'll play in the Auckland Nines.
The trial game against Wigan in Hamilton is on February 12, just three days before the Nines at Eden Park kick off.
Because of the closeness in dates, Warriors coach Matt Elliott has decided that he will field completely different teams for each of them and as he regards the Nines as the more important of the two, that's where Tomkins will be.
"Sam will be playing Nines," Elliott confirmed. "We made a commitment as an organisation to do really well in the Nines. We also need to look at who's best suited for it and Sam certainly falls into that category."
Wigan will be Down Under to play against the Roosters in the World Club Challenge on February 22 and have organised a game against the Warriors as a warm up for that.
It would have been an emotional experience for Tomkins to play against the club he ran out for on 151 occasions.
"I can see the interest in that, but our real key is to do well in the NRL season and we'd like to have a dip at the Nines as well," Elliott said.
The first Warriors trial is against the Titans at North Harbour Stadium on February 9. That's followed by the Wigan fixture and after the Nines, they wrap up their pre-season by playing the Broncos in Dunedin on February 23 - 14 days before their season opener, against the Eels in Parramatta.
"The key game for us as far as getting ready for the NRL, is the Brisbane game in Dunedin," Elliott said. "The two trial games before that are a good opportunity to give some up-and-coming players a chance to play at a high level. Obviously, we're going to play other key players at that time, but there is also a focus on the Nines. Guys playing in the Nines certainly won't be playing in the Wigan trial because it's only a few days before."
As well as Tomkins, Jayson Bukuya and Chad Townsend (both from the Sharks) are the club's three key signings for the 2014 campaign. They will need to get up to speed with the Warriors' style of play during the trial games, but another factor Elliott will take into consideration over team selection is that he doesn't want to overwork players who had gruelling 2013 seasons.
"We've got to take into account the amount of football our international guys played," he said. "They won't be playing a lot of trial footy. Thomas [Leuluai] played every minute of every game for us last year and while he didn't play in the international games, he was away the whole time and suffered an injury.
"Simon Mannering played a hell of a lot of footy... so they won't be playing a lot of trial football."
Elliott says while it will be a unique experience to play Wigan in Hamilton, it still has be judged as part of the bigger picture.
"Because we've not done it before it will be new for us and we'll have a stronger side out in that game than we do for the Titans, but our real focus is more the Nines and the last trial."
THE TRIAL AHEAD
Warriors v Titans: February 9 4pm North Harbour Stadium, Albany
Warriors v Wigan: February 12 7.30pm Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
NRL Auckland Nines: February 15-16 Eden Park, Auckland
Warriors v Broncos: February 23 3pm Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin