Vodafone Junior Warriors driving future
Friday 27 July 2012 1:07 PM
As the Vodafone Warriors head to Perth today, they boast a group of players almost 80 per cent New Zealand-made, nearly all of them graduates from the club’s NYC team.
The latest product is 21-year-old Mangere East junior Sebastine Ikahihifo – quietly spoken but a back rower with a huge capacity for work – who starred for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in their back-to-back NYC premiership successes in 2010 and 2011.
Also a Junior Kiwi both years, Ikahihifo will become Vodafone Warrior No 176 when he makes his debut off the interchange bench in tomorrow night’s 21st-round clash against Manly at Patersons Stadium, formerly Subiaco Oval (5.30pm kick-off local time, 9.30pm kick-off NZ time).
Yet again the Vodafone Warriors will feature 11 NYC graduates, the fifth time in recent weeks the club has fielded such a high proportion of players to emerge from the under-20 competition. They also had 11 against Penrith, Cronulla, Gold Coast and Newcastle, underlining the Vodafone Warriors’ evolution into a genuine development club.
Indeed Ikahihifo will be the 21st Vodafone Junior Warrior to play at NRL level for the club since the competition started in 2008, the 15th ex-NYC player to be used by the Vodafone Warriors in the NRL this year.
“He’s got a massive motor Seb. He’s industrious, he’s brave, he’ll make lots of tackles and he’s a threat with the ball. He’s very well respected by his team-mates,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Brian McClennan.
On top of the NYC complement, tomorrow’s captain Manu Vatuvei and 18th man Pita Godinet are local products who have come through the club’s system and Christchurch-born utility Lewis Brown developed into a first-grade player after joining the Vodafone Warriors in 2009.
“It’s fantastic knowing our club is doing such a terrific job developing New Zealand players,” said McClennan.
While 21 Vodafone Junior Warriors have gone on to represent the club in the NRL, a few former NYC players have debuted in the NRL for other clubs such as Nafe Seluini, Neccrom Areaiiti, Matt Robinson, Constantine Mika and Adam Henry.
While the count of 11 NYC products lining up in the NRL side – five times – is high, Brisbane can claim a higher number with 13 of its own former NYC players used in the recent 0-12 loss to the North Queensland Cowboys. The bulk of those players – 10 of them – were NYC players in the competition's first edition in 2008 while the Vodafone Warriors’ set of emerging players being used this week spans the competition’s full life span; Konrad Hurrell, Ben Henry, Sam Lousi and Sebastine Ikahihifo were playing in the NYC this time last year while Shaun Johnson and Elijah Henry were in the champion 2010 side.
The Sydney Roosters also have 11 ex-NYC players in their chosen 17 to face Gold Coast tonight but several of them played under-20 football for other clubs, New Zealanders Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Lama Tasi with Manly, second rower Aidan Guerra with Melbourne, Dunedin-born loose forward Tinirau Arona with Penrith and Nafe Seluini with the Vodafone Warriors. Roosters 18th man Brad Takairangi also came through the NYC but with South Sydney, not his current club.
Leeson Ah Mau
• Steve Rapira played for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in 2008, made his NRL debut for North Queensland in 2009 but returned home to play for the Vodafone Warriors last year