New Warriors coach Matthew Elliott – largely unwanted by the players when he snared the job – has already chalked up a major win with his player roster.
Midway through November last year, Elliott promised he would allow the players to choose their own captain, the player they would respect and turn to for on-field direction and inspiration.
The position was put to a secret vote and the player (unanimously) anointed at the weekend is Simon Mannering, a 30-Test international who performs equally well at second-row or centre.
I see this as an early notch on Elliott’s belt. Many Warriors expressed a liking for Tony Iro as the man to replace Brian McClennan as first grade coach and were aghast when the Aussie got the gig.
Elliott cut them some early slack and they ran with it. Round one to the coach who is going to need loads of support tackling one of the toughest jobs in the NRL.
The Warriors finished last season abysmally. Midway through, they were a chance of making the eight but they collapsed like plasticine men, toy soldiers who did more tickling than tackling when it mattered most.
On The Roar I wrote they should be tossed out of the comp if they didn’t compete for the full 80 minutes in their games.
Naturally, I got smashed by Roarers, many of whom failed to look at the big picture. This was a team that was runner-up in 2011 and crashed into oblivion, not even qualifying for the top eight.
At the time, I pointed out I have always enjoyed watching Kiwi sporting teams in action but not this one. This was a team of quitters – just look at the half-time and full-time scores in the latter stages of 2012 to get my drift.
I have enjoyed watching the Warriors ever since they were admitted to the Australian league competition in 1995 (as the Auckland Warriors).
But last season? The stink is still in my nostrils.
I have always had lots of time for Matthew Elliott as a coach and really hope he succeeds from day one.
There is loads of talent in the Warriors line-up – an exciting mix of youth and experience.
Backline defence (or the lack of it) was their major problem last year and I think the arrival of ex-Storm centre Dane Nielsen will go a long way to solving it. Nielsen starred defensively in the 2012 grand final against a dangerous Bulldogs outfit used to scoring tries at a blink.
He suffocated the Dogs’ danger men out wide. He will need to do it time and again to help this Warriors team regain the respect they lost in that dreadful, spiralling end to last season.
But back to captain Mannering, an even bigger key to the team’s fortunes in the months ahead.
The 26-year-old is on track to become the longest serving skipper (after Stacey Jones) in the club’s history. This coming season will be his fourth at the helm.
Mannering has made 165 top grade appearances for the Warriors and is signed until the end of the 2015 season.
“Simon is an absolute logical choice for the job,” Elliott said. “He is mutually respected and admired by all of the players and coaching staff for the quality he brings as a leader and a player.
“He is a person of strong character and he has a wonderful work ethic.”