You would think the Warriors were a hardcore legion of Queen fans, if culling players is anything to go by. Yes, you guessed it, another one bit the dust today at Ericsson as the club formally released test centre Vinnie Anderson from his contract with the Auckland based franchise.
2005 seemed to offer plenty. All the right tunes were being played to the media and fans. They'd recruited well off the field with Kevin Campion, Ivan Cleary and Peter Sterling joining the coaching staff of the Warriors. Stacey Jones claimed to be at the heights of his physical condition after bowing out of his superstar Kiwis career prior to the Tri Nations series. Players talked up the club again, and the customary group photos of happiness, community jest, and off season fitness torture were displayed for all to see.
What was not obviously displayed was the warts and all of behind the seasons. For behind the scenes, in a dark gloomy dungeon at Ericsson, the Warriors frantically worked overtime attempting to cull another player from their roster. In the past year or so, it had become something of a tainted tradition, a nightmare that fans had hoped had ceased just as quickly as the 'Bulk 'em up like Mack Trucks' fitness regime had ended at the end of 2004. Most club fans can accept that there will be one or two that do not make out their contracts with their club, but fact remains that due to a multitude of reasons, some known, others undisclosed, too many players at the Warriors had fallen prey to the sharp blade of a Warriors pink slip.
The players released may sound like a who's who of the Warriors prior to season 2004. Ali Lauitiiti, superstar extraordinaire back rower who was punted due to apparently a lack of eagerness to win a premiership. That obviously changed in six months or so as he powered a phenomenal effort for Leeds to take the ESL premiership, and followed that up with a good effort to help his adopted club take out the World Club Challenge. Ali Lauitiiti 2-Warriors 0. Thomas Leuluai, apparently the new prot�g� of New Zealand rugby league, a phenomenally hyped player who was brought in 2003 to help rejuvenate Lance Hohaia to a return to form. Quite a few test matches, largely by default as the Kiwis halfback, but regardless all before he had hit 20 years of age. Rather than hope he worked out for the future, the supposed superstar in the making was sent on his bike.
That should be the end of it? Right? Not quite. Try Junior Kiwi Vince Mellars, Kiwi utility Motu Tony, Queensland State of Origin representative PJ Marsh, Kiwis high flying winger Henry Fa'afili, Junior Kiwi prot�g�` Marcus Perenara, the injured and now retired Junior Roo in Danny Sullivan, the supposed replacement to our propping depth nightmares in Matt Jobson - all leaving the club short of their contracts expiry date.
The stories float around afterwards, it was confirmed pretty much Lauitiiti was sent on his bike for not wanting a premiership. There has been debate from the PJ Marsh camp over who initiated the end of the contract, Marsh's manager vociferously refuted the Warriors suggested that PJ Marsh wanted out. Motu Tony seemed to enjoy a weekly column as to what happened at the Warriors, or his insights into what was going on.
So, surely, given all the bad press, the build of disunity and trust at the Warriors itself and within the club fan community, the player exodus would be over right?
Wrong. Exit stage left New Zealand test centre Vinnie Anderson. Possibly one of a handful who can put their hand up and honestly say the effort I put in in season 2004 was consistently the best I could offer. The same, arguably, could only be said of Karl Te Mata, Wairangi Koopu, Louis Anderson and Iafeta Paleaaesina, and during their limited first grade time in 2004 Jerome Ropati and Monty Betham. All toilers, nothing overly flash aside from young Ropati who looks an exceptional talent, but they tried their guts out week in week out. Sometimes their passion went too far, sometimes their skill sets were not up to the standards of their Harlem Globe-trotter friends, but their commitment was undoubted. Surely, given the Harlem Globe-trotter look and feel of the Warriors you would look after them within your squad of 25? Not the Warriors, as Anderson is indeed on his way.
And what price speculation on his super talented brother Louis picks up ten fold? Is that the press the Warriors need? This time of year should be about building relationships, building form, rebuilding faith and inferred integrity. Already, despite the great work in the off-season training, despite the excellent acquisitions in Steven Price, Ruben Wiki, Todd Byrne, Nathan Fein and to the off field group Kevin Campion, Ivan Cleary, Peter Sterling, Tony Iro and John Ackland, already tension is building. How can the club expect a top four finish, if the players are genuinely concerned about their security at the club? How can the players turn on their best performances if they feel the pressure of big brother unfairly snapping at their heels? How can the players trust the club? How can they turn down a bigger offer come June 30 to resign with the club, where love and integrity and pride in the club badge must surely have turned to what if, who and where do I go from here? How can a 16 year old talent turn away from the snipes of the Australian scouts in favour of the Warriors - previously for love and faith and pride, how secure would they feel at the Warriors, a club now famous for contract terminations.
We all hope that this does not turn into a them versus us situation of bad management and a disenchanted core of employees. That would be the last thing this franchise needs. It needs a season of soliditary to rebuild the great faith built up in 2001-2003 that was blown away on and off the field in 2004. This does not seem the way to start.
Are management aware of the contracts they are signing? The clear inference is they do not trust their own judgement, or their judgement has been wrong in many instances. If they think a player is worth three years, surely they would stick to that. They have legally binding documents that confirms their faith for that period. But seemingly on an all too familiar basis, either the player becomes disgruntled with the culture at the club or management lose trust in their judgement and send said player elsewhere. At the end of the day, both reasons for the flooded departures lounge at Auckland International are management shortcomings, and ones that need serious addressing. Granted, one or two contracts can end up being wrong through bad luck, but not eight or nine in a year or so.
This has also offered up the rumour mill, because the inference is if you look at it, before Price, Wiki, Fein and Byrne came the Warriors had lost the following Kiwi test players - Jerry Seu Seu, Vinnie Anderson, Ali Lauitiiti, Thomas Leuluai, Logan Swann, Motu Tony - PJ Marsh from Queensland and from the Junior Kiwis Vince Mellars. Either Price and Wiki have come on far higher terms than the club publicly disclosed, or the club is putting money in the kitty, possibly for a certain mega star who may hit the market at June 30.
First Ali, then PJ, now Vinnie Anderson. Who is next? Hopefully not integrity or faith, because once the club loses that - which it seems perilously close to doing with some of its core fans and surely deep down the players - then they can kiss this season of good hope goodbye into an oblivion of unparalleled despair.