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The forgotten players: New Zealand Warriors

Roar Guru
13th December, 2020
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Roar Guru
13th December, 2020
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This is the 17th article in the series that looks at some of the forgotten players from your favourite club.

The NZ Warriors entered the competition in 1995 as the Auckland Warriors and spent the 1997 season in the Super League.

Since joining the competition, some 250 players have played for the Warriors, and the club has had its fair share of legends over the years.

Players like Simon Mannering, Stacey Jones, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Manu Vatuvei and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are all well known throughout the league world, but do you remember that these players who turned out for the Warriors?

1. Matthew Ridge
Better known for his time at Manly, Ridge had 37 games for the Warriors across the 1997 to 1999 seasons, scoring 238 points. He also represented NZ 25 times, and was remarkably selected for his first Test match after only six games of league. Before embarking on his league career, he was a top level union player in NZ and was picked on the All Blacks’ 1989 tour of Britain.

2. Cooper Vuna
Playing at around 110 kilos, Vuna was a very destructive ball runner and an excellent defender. He got his start in the top grade with the Warriors in 2004 at the age of 17 but was selected for only five first grade games over the next three seasons. He then moved to the Knights where he firmly established himself in the top grade, and was also selected to represent Tonga three times. He made a successful switch to rugby in 2011 and has been there ever since, playing two Tests for Australia and 16 Tests for Tonga along the way.

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3. Manoa Thompson
Thompson played both league and union as a schoolboy before making first grade with South Sydney in 1989. He then had a brief stint with Wests before coming to the Warriors in 1995 where he played just five games, before heading off to the UK and France for the rest of his career. He is the father of Jarryd Hayne.

4. Richie Blackmore
Blackmore was a union flanker when he switched to league with Castleford in England where he earned a reputation as both a skillful and tough player. He joined the Warriors for the 1995 and 1996 seasons playing 27 games for the club. He then had three years back in the UK with Leeds before a final season with the Warriors in 2001, where he played just eight games due to continuing injuries. He also played 25 times for NZ.

5. Denan Kemp
Kemp was a real speedster and scored 20 tries for the Broncos in 28 games before joining the Warriors in 2009 where he managed just one try in 11 games.

Warriors fans

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

6. Frano Botica
Botica was an All Black with seven Tests and a Rugby World Cup already under his belt before he switched to league with Wigan in 1990, going on to play 179 games for the club. An exciting ball runner and one of the best goal kickers of all time, he joined the Warriors for the 1995 season playing just five games, before returning to England play out the rest of his top level career. A dual international, he also played seven league Tests for the Kiwis and two for Croatia.

7. Grant Rovelli
Hailing from Mackay in Queensland, Rovelli spent time in the juniors of both the Cowboys and the Roosters before getting his first grade start with the Warriors in 2008. He played 68 games for the club before making the move to the Cowboys in 2009.


8. Terry Hermansson
A junior Kiwi representative, Hermansson was a big unit and an absolute weapon when he put his mind to it. After successful stints with both Souths (twice) and the Roosters, Hermansson came to the Warriors in 1999 and played 39 games for the club over the next three years. He also played four Tests for NZ.

9. Syd Eru
Eru was quite a player and only injuries prevented him from becoming one of NZ’s best ever players. Injuries limited him to 59 games for the Warriors across the 1995 to 1999 seasons during which he also played 18 Tests for NZ.

10. Justin Morgan
Morgan had stints with both Parramatta and Canberra before joining the Warriors in 2001 where he played 28 games for the club over two seasons. He also played ten Tests for Wales. After retiring from the game he has built a successful coaching career, including seven seasons with Hull Kingston Rovers, and stints with the Raiders, Storm and the NZ national team.

11. Sonny Fai
Fai was a young giant and junior Kiwi representative who made his first grade debut for the Warriors at the age of 19 in 2008, and he scored five tries in his 15 games for the club that year. Fai tragically drowned in early 2009 while trying to save his brother and cousins from a rip at Auckland’s Bethells Beach.

12. Dennis Betts
An English legend and international, there’s almost nothing Betts hasn’t achieved in the game. Tough and skillful, Betts had a 13-year career with Wigan, won six championships, and played four Tests for England and 32 for Great Britain. He joined the Warriors for a three-year stint when they entered the big time in 1995 and played 42 games for the club.


13. Vinnie Anderson
Anderson was an Auckland junior before joining the Warriors in 2002, playing 55 first grade games for the club over the next three seasons. He then headed to the UK and France for the rest of his career and notched up 260 games at the top level in his 15-year career. He also played six Tests for NZ. A great defender with excellent ball skills, Anderson could also play five-eighth, second row and centre with distinction.

NRL generic

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

14. Hitro Okesene
Equally at home at either prop or hooker, Okesene was happy to play it tough and his charges at the defence were always popular with the crowd. He played 22 games for the Warriors across the 1995 to 1997 seasons and then played the remainder of his top level career in England and France. He has the rare distinction of playing Test matches for NZ, Western Samoa and American Samoa.

15. Andy Platt
Platt was, quite simply, one of the greatest English players of all time, winning both the Harry Sunderland Medal and the Man of Steel award during his 16-year career. He played an incredible 554 first grade games and 29 Test matches. He joined the English player migration to the Warriors in 1995 and played 35 games for the club over the next two years.

16. Karl Te Mata
Big Karl is one of the few players who were selected to play at both prop and winger during their career. Te Mata played 52 games for the Warriors across the 2002 to 2005 seasons before heading to England for the rest of his career. He also played three Tests for the Cook Islands.

17. Marc Ellis
A talented utility back, Ellis came from a rugby union background and had played 21 times for the All Blacks before switching to league with the Warriors in 1996. He played 36 games for the club over the next two seasons and also played in five Tests for the Kiwis.

Some other Warriors players who may have slipped your mind are Whetu Taewa, Greg Alexander and Joe Vagana.