Saturday night marks the most historic landmark for any of our players during the Warriors history. It marks a celebration of a club man who bleeds, breathes and savours the Warriors. That man is none other than our Little General, Stacey Jones.
Who will ever forget 1995 when a young kid from Point Chevalier showed glimpses of something extremely special. Remember 'that' drop goal against Cronulla in 1995? Remember him out enthusing fellow Warrior Phil Blake to the try line against the Parramatta Eels? Remember that cheeky smile?
We knew he was going to be something to cherish, but did we ever expect that a little pint sized midget would become a Kiwi immortal even before he had retired?
Not only is he a Kiwis immortal, he is a Warriors immortal. Infact, Stacey typifies everything that is good about the Warriors. He is a team man who plays above his weight, a man who would rather praise his forward pack than accept the glory of a typical Jones performance. He is often underrated in Australia but has often left opposing sides gasping for air, smelling the cruel fate of egg on their face.
Mostly he is remembered for being loyal. The best thing to remember about Stacey Jones is his character off the field. Gaining the autograph of Stacey Jones should be a challenge, the autograph of the "little general" is held in absolute awe amongst Warriors fans. But, alas, it is not. Stacey is always obliging for the fans, no matter how old or how young - he will sign your jersey and be flattered in your interest.
Meeting Stacey Jones the day after the 2002 Grand Final remains one of my personal proudest memories, something I will savour until the day I die. There were tears in his eyes, remnants of the pains of what might have been. Obviously he was hurting, but in typical Stacey Jones style he was more than obliging to meet yet another prospective Jones idoliser. Words cannot explain how professional and friendly he was with his time. This though as we have all come to love is what Stacey Jones is all about.
Who will ever, ever dare forget possibly the greatest individual Grand Final try in the past decade? Seven Roosters players he defeated that night on his way to putting the Warriors into rugby league folklore. He took the Warriors into the lead in our maiden visit to the Grand Final. If only briefly, he had the rugby league world swooning on his ability. As we all know, the Roosters ran away with it in the end. And as is often typically Stacey Jones, his achievement was consumed by other deeds. Take that Grand Final, how often is Stacey's try talked about? Its not often reminisced by those on this side of the Tasman. No, indeed the doyen of rugby league television commentary has a prolific habit of reminding us all of how the Bulldogs versus Roosters was the Grand Final that should have been. Make no mistake about it, the Warriors deserved their slice of history � Stacey weaved and earned his slice of heaven.
Stacey though does not hark it up. He lets his football do the talking. He lets the consummate professionalism of his on field play, and his off field undying loyalty to the Warriors speak for itself. Whether its the famed banana kick to Henry Fa'afili, the cross field bomb, the Seu Seu wrap around, the picking up of the loose ball and scooting past unsuspecting defenders with that unparalleled acceleration, Jones often delivers. Even in the face of 2003, a season where the Warriors never quite arrived but almost snuck into the Grand Final, Jones was doing his business with little to no accolades. Just prior to his groin injury, in typical Jones fashion he was leading the try assists tally for the season. Post the injury, he played on one leg, kicking the ball into the corners, potting field goals and directing traffic. Again Stacey's professionalism was lost in the media frenzy over the Jason Bugarelli dropped ball, rather than lay focus on Stacey's kicking game that in the last 3 or 4 minutes had Canberra gasping for every inch of air. Even yet another field goal from Jones, or the perfectly laid pass onto the chest of Logan Swann for a Warriors try was lost in the wash up.
True Warrior fans though never forget. True Warrior fans never forget the loyalty that Stacey showed to the club through any number of crises. True Warrior fans never forget that soft, friendly smile off the field as he embraces yet another awe struck fan who need not be, because Stacey off the field acts like any decent member of society - not as the superstar he is, not as a Golden Boot winner, not as a final 3 member of the Dally Ms, but as a typical Kiwi being part of his community.
Saturday night the Warriors travel to Townsville. Stacey's tally travels from 199 to 200. This week, even in New Zealand press circles, there have not been that many beat ups over it. Consumed more by the recent Warrior incidents and indeed other sports, Stacey's performance seems to have been lost in the limelight.
The other 16 Warriors who take the field that night will not forget. They will remember every step Stacey took on the field and off the field and work hard to repay him in the way Stacey deserves. The club has a habit of it - 42-0 demolition of Newcastle in game 100, 68-10 annihilation of the Northern Eagles in game 150. Stacey, as the consummate professional will not let emotions boil over, he will play his 200th as he did his first. With pure passion and pride in the Warriors jersey. The same pride and passion that has had an untold effect on the Warriors on field success against the odds in recent years, and to a more raw extent, having an untold effect on the Warriors very existence as an NRL franchise.
God bless you Stacey, thank you for being Stacey Jones - here's hoping you will be recognised after Saturday night and onwards into the bright twilight of your career.