McKewen: Same old Warriors? - not this year

TREVOR MCKEWEN
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014

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OPINION: Two grand finals and a handful of finals appearances over almost two decades of rugby league might seem, on the face of it, scant reward for the Warriors faithful.

For the diehards, the promise the night of March 10, 1995, held when 29,200 supporters crammed Mt Smart to see Alfie Langer's Brisbane Broncos deny an historic home victory must seem a million years ago, not the 20th that tonight's season opener against Parramatta marks for a franchise of immense potential.

Most would have expected the Holy Grail - an NRL premiership - to have been achieved, if not once, at least two or three times by now.

But that disregards how disadvantaged New Zealand's sole team has been for much of its existence.

Often the club has been its own worst enemy. The Super League-induced excesses of the Ian Robson era, the disastrous Tainui ownership years and the ego-driven Mick Watson all held the franchise back at vital times.

But for the bulk of those two decades, the club's greatest obstacle to success has been Australian indifference, if not blatant resistance at times.

The first club cut from News Limited funding after the Super League-Australian Rugby League schism resolved itself as the NRL in 1998 was the Warriors. It made no business sense. Instead News spent millions on creating a model franchise in the Storm in a city where nobody cared.

The Warriors were left to battle along with the smallest budget of any club. It left the club as limp buyers in the market.

That improved under the Eric Watson ownership, lifting even further in the past few years since Owen Glenn also got involved and reflected in the Sam Tomkins deal.

For much of the time under Watson's ownership, the Warriors have suffered from inferior competition structures.

But now the Warriors have tapped directly into the Australian development system via their reserve and under 20s competitions, the tide is turning. Player depth has never been as impressive.

There is also a discernible change in approach.

Insiders say Watson and Glenn have been influenced by studying the English Premier League and discovering successful clubs buy talent in rather than develop it.

Tomkins' signing is a signal that the "we are a development club" mantra might have been tweaked.

The most important player? Most say Tomkins or Shaun Johnson.

In reality, it could be young stand-off Chad Townsend, signed in the off-season from Cronulla.

There are early signs Townsend might have a bit of James Maloney about him.

Here's hoping so. For all the electric moments Tomkins and Johnson will undoubtedly provide this season, the one missing ingredient from the 2014 Warriors model is a level-headed plotter who can push the side around the park.

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Trevor McKewen is a former Warriors CEO

- Sunday Star Times

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