Education and playing in the Toyota Cup are the major reasons why four of New Zealand's most promising rugby union schoolboys have recently signed with the Warriors.
St Kentigern College 1st XV captain Albert Vete, Auckland Grammar centre Braxton Stanley, King's College winger Ngataua Hukatai and Palmerston North Boys' High School centre Ngani Laumape have joined the Warriors after starring in school union.
Their signatures are a coup for the Warriors - though each player says his decision was more a reflection of what the Warriors are doing right rather than what union is doing wrong.
Braxton Stanley, son of Martin and nephew of All Black Joe (who played league during his childhood) and cousin of All Black Jeremy, had to think hard about whether to turn his back on union.
"My reasons for signing were, firstly, that the Warriors have created a very professional environment. I will benefit from that. Secondly, I have always watched the Toyota Cup and I really want to give that a go. Playing a new sport also appeals to me." Stanley says he will study sport and recreation at AUT, aiming to grow intellectually as well as physically.
Like Stanley, Albert Vete has no league experience: "But they [the Warriors] are a very professional outfit. With their emphasis on education, they can help make me a better person."
Vete will study towards a Bachelor of Physical Education at university.
Ngani Laumape says his decision was based more on the game itself: "Watching the Toyota Cup and knowing that if I work hard, I might be able to make that squad was very important. I also think that league suits my game better than union does."
Ngataua Hukatai's motivation was two-fold: having played league between the ages of six and 12, he understood it.
"I was approached a year ago by clubs but my parents thought I should focus on my education. And I like that the Warriors make sure their players study for a degree or a trade."
A young player contracted to the Warriors receives around $6000 (depending on age and other factors) a year. He will also receive financial assistance with study fees. He will train up to six days a week.
The Warriors learnt about each of these new recruits through schoolboy rugby. Recruitment manager Dean Bell says the club would be foolish to ignore schoolboy union talent.
"This is not to say we are ignoring the local league players. That is where we still get roughly 90 per cent of our players."
There is no universal way the Warriors discover a union player: they were tipped off by a St Kent's room-mate about Vete; Stanley stood out when recruitment officers were looking at another player; they saw Laumape play for a Heartland XV; Hukatai was spotted at King's.
Where possible, the Warriors will approach the young player's parents, although many will already have agents.
The Warriors' recent success in all competitions has not hurt in signing their union recruits but Bell believes the key to recruitment is getting the right systems in place.
"We know the players who come to us aren't coming for the money. They come for the right reasons. The Toyota Cup has definitely helped but we put huge emphasis on education and making sure these players are well supported off the field."
Bell says the Warriors are interested in creating good people.
"Professional sport being what it is, some of the young players who sign will make it and others won't. We want them to benefit from the experience of being with us, regardless of what happens down the track."
By Todd Nicholls
Good to see that the Warriors (and league) is getting a good reputation!
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