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NRL NEWS: Warriors officially dump Brown for Jones, Campbell hobbled, Rapana banned, Latrell out

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7th June, 2022
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Warriors chief executive Cameron George says he wants their next head coach to be a “hard arse” who can end the struggling NRL club’s long wait for a maiden premiership.

On Tuesday the Warriors announced the exit of Nathan Brown just 18 months after he was handed the reins by George. Brown was the club’s third head coach in as many seasons and the 48-year-old will be replaced by club great Stacey Jones in a caretaker role.

The club sacked Stephen Kearney in 2020 and interim coach Todd Payten looked set to replace him before he opted to take the North Queensland job.

Newcastle Knights coach Nathan Brown.

Nathan Brown (Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Brown said personal reasons meant he didn’t want to permanently relocate to New Zealand beyond next season, although the fact the Warriors had one win from their last eight games meant he was clinging to his role. 

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The Warriors have been Australia-based since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 and will return to Auckland for fly-in, fly-out games later this year.

Situated in Queensland for the 2022 season, they will return to New Zealand on a permanent basis next year.

Whoever comes in to take the job will be doing so from a low base – the club has made finals just once since 2012 and hasn’t won a title since joining the competition in 1995.

“We have been trying to survive in a lot of aspects of our club (but) it doesn’t give us a free pass from not winning,” George said. “By the number of phone calls and messages I’ve got today, selling the club to potential coaches is not going to be too hard.

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“We haven’t won that premiership yet and we want that next coach to be the first person to lead us to a premiership. We’re not scared of a rookie coach. To be honest, I want to see someone who is a bit of a hard arse. We need to steel up our defence and attitude.”

The new coach will have little wiggle room to put his stamp on the roster given Brown was afforded the opportunity to recruit Mitch Barnett, Marata Niukore, Luke Metcalf and Dylan Walker for next season. 

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 02: Matthew Lodge of the Warriors is tackled during the round four NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Brisbane Broncos at Moreton Daily Stadium, on April 02, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Matt Lodge and David Fusitua are being paid to not be at the club and Warriors’ junior ranks have also been decimated by an exodus of players to Australian clubs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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George said he was expecting all the players signed to the club for 2023 to be there at the start of the pre-season with their new head coach. “We’re in no hurry,” he said of the search for Brown’s replacement.

“Stacey is in the role for the rest of the season. We’d like to have an indication (on the head coach) by August to allow us to plan for the pre-season.”

Already Kiwis coach Michael Maguire may be one option for the Warriors after he was shown the door by the Wests Tigers hours after Brown’s exit. 

Tonga and St Helens coach Kristian Woolf is another potential suitor for the Warriors role. 

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After starting the season with a respectable 4-4 record, the Warriors have lost five straight matches, culminating in a 44-12 drubbing at the hands of Manly to drop to 14th on the ladder.

The club’s recent decision to grant Lodge an early release while paying out the remainder of his contract was heavily criticised.

Second-rower Euan Aitken has signed with the Dolphins next year after telling the club he did not want to relocate to New Zealand, veteran Kodi Nikorima recently left for Souths while young playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita has opted to take a sabbatical from the sport next year.

Stacey Jones

Stacey Jones is a Kiwi rugby league legend. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

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Campbell hamstrung for eight weeks

Gold Coast’s NRL season has copped another blow after scans confirmed a serious hamstring injury will sideline Jayden Campbell for eight weeks.

The enterprising fullback was injured in the Titans’ loss to North Queensland last Thursday, a defeat that saw them drop to second-last with a 3-10 record.

The setback follows a rib injury that kept him out earlier this season and adds further headaches for the Titans’ under-pressure, young spine of Toby Sexton and AJ Brimson.

It could force coach Justin Holbrook to shift Brimson back into the No.1, despite the club’s intention to develop him in the No.6 jersey, while Jamayne Isaako could also fill the void against South Sydney on Saturday.

Parramatta recruit Will Smith had filled a gap in the halves for the Titans earlier this season, but last week was granted an immediate release on compassionate grounds to return to NSW.

The Titans’ poor form follows a breakthrough finals appearance in 2021 under Holbrook, who has signed experienced half Kieran Foran from Manly for next season.

Jordan Rapana of the Raiders scores a try, which was then disallowed by the video referee during the NRL Semi Final

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Rapana banned over kick

Veteran Canberra winger Jordan Rapana will miss his side’s trip to Brisbane after accepting a ban for kicking Sydney Roosters interchange forward Egan Butcher.

It’s another blow for a Raiders’ backline already missing fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and centre Jarrod Croker ahead of an important clash with the Broncos.

Rapana accepted the one-match ban he was offered for lashing out at Butcher’s face with his boot while he was being held in a tackle by three defenders. Butcher was left bleeding after the incident.

Rapana could have challenged the grade two dangerous contact charge, but risked missing an extra week should he have been found guilty.

Youngster James Schiller could replace him having started two games earlier this season on the wing, while Semi Valemei has scored four tries in two weeks after being sent back to NSW Cup, although has played primarily at centre in 2022.

Teammate Zac Woolford also took an early plea, although he won’t miss time and instead pay a $1500 fine for a grade one crusher tackle.

Bulldogs halfback Kyle Flanagan, who was fined $1000 for a lifting tackle on Panthers second-rower Viliame Kikau in Friday night’s 30-18 loss at BlueBet Stadium, was the only other player chaged in Round 13.

Latrell laid low with COVID

Rabbitohs fullback Latrell Mitchell will be unavailable for selection in Round 14 after he tested positive to COVID-19 on Sunday.

Mitchell, who will not train this week as he isolates from the team, was hoping to be back in action for Saturday’s tussle with the Titans on the Gold Coast after returning from the United States last week where he had been receiving intensive treatment on his hamstring injury.

He posted on Instagram: “From one battle to another, C-19 free has come to its end. I’ll see everyone in 7 days. Stay safe look after your community.”

The setback means he will have just one chance to show his wares before Blues coach Brad Fittler before the NSW squad for Origin II is announced – the Round 16 clash with St George Illawarra in Wollongong.

However, he may not be considered for selection in that game either with the match being the first game of the round on Thursday, meaning he will only have a couple of days to prepare once he’s served his one-week isolation period.

Mitchell, who would have been a certain selection for Origin I in the centres, spoke glowingly about his trip to the States when he touched down at Sydney Airport on Thursday after working with renowned specialist Bill Knowles on his troublesome left hamstring.

Souths are clinging to eighth spot with a 6-6 record but have a chance to rise up the ladder over the next five weeks with Parramatta the only team above them on the schedule after the clashes with the Titans and Dragons, followed by meetings with Newcastle and Canterbury.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Origin wage dispute bubbling away

Rugby League Players Association chief Clint Newton is in talks with the NRL about payments for Origin players now that the COVID-19 crowd restrictions are over and income is flowing back into the game.

A capacity crowd of more than 82,000 fans is expected for Wednesday’s State of Origin series opener at Accor Stadium but the NSW and Queensland players are still being paid half their previous rate of $30,000 per game.

They agreed to be paid $15,000 per Origin when the game had to make drastic cutbacks during the pandemic.

The QRL has agreed to pay its women’s players the same rate as the men although the NSWRL has been criticised for only offering $6000 to its female representatives.

Women’s Origin will remain as a single match this year – a June 24 fixture in Canberra – but will expand to a two-match series in 2023.

Fittler’s faith in debutants to get job done

Brad Fittler copped plenty of criticism for making changes to his squad after last year’s emphatic series victory but the NSW coach is backing his rookie trio in particular to rise to the occasion.

Blues stalwarts Josh Addo-Carr, Angus Crichton and Jake Trbojevic were dumped with Kotoni Staggs, Stephen Crichton and Ryan Matterson called up to make their Origin debut on Wednesday night at Accor Stadium.

Fittler, in his column for the Sydney Morning Herald, said they had settled into camp well and were primed to deliver in their baptism of fire.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“There’s nothing better in this role than giving young blokes a chance to step up and go to the next level. Listening to past players we’ve had address the group over several years, they tell them there is no better place to do it than in Origin. We’re in that mood now,” he said.

“I’ve known most of our Origin debutants for a number of years. I knew Kotoni as a young bloke, but he’s been in Queensland for a while with the Broncos and I’ve just watched him from afar. We picked him just as much for his defence as what he can provide in attack and I’m really excited about his match-up with Valentine Holmes.

“Stephen Crichton and Ryan Matterson have been a part of the group before. Most of the players these days are pretty good. When they come into camp, they’re always open and they realise the standards they have to uphold. They’re a group of non-complainers. They get on with it and get s— done. The current blokes trust the coaching staff, and we trust them.”

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