General John Ackland



By Michael Brown

Mention the name Russell Coutts and many Kiwis bristle at being reminded of someone who they believe sold out his country.

Mention the name John Ackland and the response is somewhat tempered. There might even be a few who utter, "who?", oblivious to what Ackland has achieved in rugby league. For a time in 2002 and 2003, however, Ackland was referred to by some as the "Russell Coutts of New Zealand rugby league".

By securing Roy Asotasi, Hutch Maiava and, most notably, Sonny Bill Williams for the Canterbury Bulldogs, Ackland was, as the story goes, selling out his own country.

"The enemy is not Australian clubs, the enemy is not rugby union - it is people within New Zealand rugby league," Warriors chief executive Mick Watson said at the time in relation to Ackland's scouting activities for the Bulldogs.

In the dank basement of his Grey Lynn house, with countless team photos of yesteryear lining the walls, the 47-year-old laughs about it now. Here is a guy who was seen as Warriors enemy No 1 in 2003, who is their assistant coach three years later. And he was even hired by Watson in 2004 as the Warriors' football development manager, with the now-departed Watson perhaps thinking it was better to have the 'enemy' within than try to shoot him down from a distance.

"It is highly ironic," Ackland chuckled with a shake of his head. "I've been through the mill a bit."

A product of Mike McClennan's Mt Albert revolution of the 1980s and an intelligent second rower who played only one test for the Kiwis - against Papau New Guinea at Carlaw Park in 1983 - Ackland teamed up with Brian McClennan as Warriors youth team coach for their inaugural season in 1995. Four years later he packed it in.

"I just got sick of it," he explained. "I couldn't take it because they kept spending money on rugby players and guys I thought were over the hill [rather than youngsters]. There wasn't much point being there."

That's what you get with Ackland. He's laconic, level-headed and honest - sometimes brutally honest. He's also passionate about the game and many a scribe or commentator has used terms like "grass-roots league man" and "pure New Zealand rugby league" or that his "heart beats rugby league", considering he's coached from schoolboy to Bartercard Cup level.

"That's all a bit soppy, a bit cheesy," the former schoolteacher said in typically forthright fashion. "Brian [McClennan] and I are similar because we were both brought up in rugby league households and we both had fathers who knew a lot, I mean a lot, about football, not just the flowery bits like scoring tries."

It's generally accepted that Ackland knows more than a thing or two about the game and it's why the Bulldogs approached him to act as their New Zealand-based scout ("they epitomised what I thought a football club should be").

It's also why new Warriors coach Ivan Cleary was happy to bring him on board as his No 2 when the smart money was on Kevin Campion stepping up from skills coach. Cleary, as a new coach on the block, wanted someone with experience and knowledge of the local scene.

The pair are just two of the new faces at the Warriors giving the club a distinctly different feel to the sometimes chaotic one propagated by Watson.

They are unlikely to bring contention and controversy on themselves and might even be judged on their on-field performances because, as Ackland said, "there's no one in the front office who wants to be a film star".

"I've always believed in one thing: that the players are good players and have always been good players," he said. "But I've also known that things away from the players have never really been right. I've got a feeling this year that things are as close to being right as they can be."

It's too soon to know if he's correct but Ackland has a proven track record for spotting talent. The Warriors might not win a premiership in 2006 but they might win back a few dispirited fans and that would be progress.


The warm fuzzies continue. Long may it last.

I must also add that I like Russell Coutts, so screw Mr Brown. :D


I would hardly consider Ackland in the same boat as Coutts. The Warriors are not a national team, it just happens that they are the only team based in NZ. Ackland was just talent spotting for the club he was working for. It's the same with the Roosters who take juniors from Souths, Newcastle etc. The players he choses can still play for the Kiwis, our official national team, and Roy and Sonny Bill have done that.
The guy has been around for a while, and he obviously knows his stuff, so to have someone with his experience and knowledge on board has got to be a good thing. We've got a lot of raw talent running around, so hopefully will his guidence, they'll mould into quality NRL players.