Phil Blake on the charge to the ball, he'll score... no he won't, the debutant has beat him to the ball.
That debutant has just gone onto be the most legendary Warrior of them. A pint sized halfback from Point Chevalier, grandson of a Kiwi, he was none other than Stacey Jones.
That day was the start of a great era. Today, the 21st of April 2005, 11 seasons later commences the beginning of the end of that era. For today was the day all proud Warriors fans never wanted to hear. Our man, the legendary 'Little General' was going to be a UTC man in Super League.
Imagining a Warriors squad without Stacey Jones is like imagining a meat pie without the pastry. It defies logic. But here today, we all have to think of now as being realistic. The far fetched dream of the young kid from St Pauls College being there at the beginning of the Warriors sojourn, and going through to the end of his career started to become a distinct possibility, but alas it is not to be. And that is a shame. The only remaining foundation player will now depart us at season's end.
Loyalty is one word to describe Stacey Jones. Modesty is another. He is a man who defied the odds, but would never hesitate to shake your hand as a fan and thank you for your support. No, Stacey, thank you for your loyalty would be the thought running through your mind, but Stacey was genuine. We the fans were the Warriors to Stacey - in reality it's become a bit of a cliche` but it bears so much truth, Stacey Jones is, has been, and always will be the definition of a true New Zealand Warrior. He is everything we want our players to be in spirit. We could not have asked for a better man to be the face of our club.
Not only did he rack up 34 test matches for his beloved Kiwis, not only did he adorn the coveted Golden Boots after his unbelievable 2002 season, not only did he score perhaps the greatest individual Grand Final try of the last decade, not only did he come up with a piece of instinctive genius to sink the Sharks in the defining play that took the Warriors to their highest honour, but in the darkest hour, at the end of the 2001 season when it was not even assured the Warriors would live on he stayed loyal. That took a special spirit. The spirit of a true Warrior. To defy the odds, and keep the faith alive.
The story is now folklore, the offers from NRL clubs, the extravagant offers from the English Super League clubs, defying the stories of Nigel and Joe Vagana laughing at Stacey Jones with comments like "Who's at your club next year, bro?" and "Daniel who?", when all seemed lost the phoenix of the Warriors rose again with a desperate heartbeat of hope when Stacey Jones announced he had refuted all the offers to stay true to the Vodafone Warriors. Picture this, when Daniel Anderson turned up to the club he had five players on his roster and slept on the floor of the Chief Executive's pad, but they had Stacey Jones, and having the Little General, the face of the Warriors reassured everyone everything would be alright.
Despite that, many betting agencies installed the below strength developing Warriors as wooden spoon favourites. But Stacey Jones played out of his skin, combining extensively with a new superstar in the making in Ali Lauitiiti, and a couple of renowned hard heads in Kevin Campion and Ivan Cleary to propel the new found Warriors to the heights of their first finals appearance. The result of that game is history, the result was not in question - the Warriors copped a flogging of the highest magnitude. But that could not take away the glory of defying every shred of burning doubt, against every imaginable long lasting odd to shape the future of New Zealand Rugby League.
So that should be where the story ends, 2001, team achieves middle of the road glory against all odds. Surely that's the end, right?
Wrong. Onwards and upwards. Infact, onwards and upwards to the coveted Minor Premiership, the JJ Giltinan Shield. And then on to the big one, the Grand Final. Yes, the Warriors were outclassed by the Roosters, but one moment lasts more than any other in New Zealander's minds. The moment Stacey Jones finally gained the recognition in Australia he deserved. He gets on the end of a short pass from PJ Marsh, and beats no fewer than eight would be defenders on the way to the most scintillating Grand Final try in recent memory.
The Warriors may have lost the battle, but they had won their biggest war. They had survived. And what's more, began the ascent to being a successful club on and off the field. 2003 brought similar glories, not quite to the same level, but falling a game shy of a back to back Grand Final is no shame. He defined that season too, winning three games with spectacular field goals - against the Raiders in the finals, against Souths in extra time, and against the Sharks at Shark Park.
And while 2004 was not a good one for Stacey Jones or the Warriors, and while some feeble minded fans prefer to prey on the insecurities of that season in their judgement of Stacey Jones, no one on this day, the 21st of April 2005 can take away the glory that Stacey Jones has found in his magical career. No one can take away the honour of being made the first life member of the Warriors. No one can take away the undeniable love and adoration of his drooling fans.
But more importantly, no one can take away who he is - a humble, modest family man. And while he leaves behind one family, it is for the betterment of the most important family. The Jones family. To Stacey and his family, god bless your soul. Kia Kaha. You are and always will be the Warriors. Forget the mirky uncertainty of the Warriors future and where Stacey's decision leaves us, thank him for where he has placed the Warriors - from the despairs of certain club death to the heights of a glorious future.