League: Warriors doing it for themselves and good of game

Simon Mannering
Simon Mannering
When the Warriors run out at Forsyth Barr Stadium tonight for their final pre-season match against the Brisbane Broncos, it will be a first.

The first time the Warriors have played in Dunedin. The first time the Broncos have played in Dunedin. And, probably, the first time most of the crowd has watched a top-level game of rugby league live.

Otago is rugby country and, for the Warriors, it is important they put on a good show during their maiden foray to the South.

So far, so good. The amiable Warriors have gone out of their way to make a positive impact in the city, visiting some local schools and brightening the day of those stuck in Dunedin Hospital.

For the Auckland-based club it is an opportunity to promote the game and bring some new fans into the fold. And that is more important than the outcome of a pre-season game.

Warriors captain Simon Mannering, who was born in Napier but moved to Motueka with his family at a young age, said the team understood how important it was to spread the rugby league message.

''League is thought of as more of a sport played in the North Island and in Auckland,'' he said.

''The more we can grow the game nationwide the better, especially down here, where there are probably guys that are keen to play but don't get that opportunity.

''If us coming down and playing a pre-season game helps in some way, then that is awesome.''

That said, the Warriors are taking the game very seriously. It is the last opportunity for the team to test itself before the Warriors' season opener against Parramatta on March 9.

''It is fairly important, given our first two trials did not go to plan. You definitely want to take something from these pre-season games going into round one. This is our last opportunity and we've got a good opponent, so it is important we put together a performance we can be proud of.''

The Warriors had a disappointing 42-22 loss to the Gold Coast Titans at Pizzey Park in Burleigh Heads, and suffered a 32-18 loss to the Penrith Panthers in Hamilton last weekend.

Last year, the highly fancied Warriors won just eight of their 24 games and finished in a lowly 14th place. They are not great memories and Mannering preferred not to dwell on the past too much.

''For some of us, they are memories we'd rather not think about,'' he said.

''I guess, for the players involved last year, they want to put a few things right. But in saying that it is a fairly new group, with a lot of new players. We've got pretty much an all-new coaching staff as well, so it feels like a fresh start.

''The new boys have all added something and the coach, Matty [Matthew Elliott], is bringing some new and fresh ideas. I guess it is just a matter of us trying to implement those the best way we can and hopefully play a brand of football which will prove successful for us.''

Centre Jerome Ropati will play his first game in 10 months. He picked up a knee injury during the Warriors' 10th-round home game against Sydney Roosters in May.

The 28-year-old has been named on the bench and it an opportunity for the experienced campaigner to put any lingering doubts regarding his injury behind him.

Former Melbourne Storm forward Todd Lowrie will have his first game for his new club. He missed last weekend's trial for personal reasons. Feleti Mateo will shift to the second row and will partner Mannering.

Sam and Steve Rapira were ruled out for the match against Penrith and make their return.


NRL pre-season
Forsyth Barr Stadium, tonight, 7.30pm
New Zealand Warriors: Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (captain), Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Glen Fisiiahi, Charlie Gubb, Sam Rapira, Carlos Tuimavave, Pita Godinet, Jerome Ropati, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Steve Rapira.

Brisbane Broncos: Josh Hoffman, Delroy Berryman, Justin Hodges, Jordan Kahu, Lachlan Maranta, Corey Norman, Peter Wallace, Ben Hannant, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire, Alex Glenn, Matt Gillett, Corey Parker. Interchange: Scott Prince, Sam Thaiday, Ben Hunt, David Stagg, Mitchell Dodds, Scott Anderson, Jack Reed, Joe Bond.