Warriors impress N.R.L.

The New Zealand Warriors are set to be rewarded for their on-field excellence and off-field innovation with a new 10-year licence to play in the National Rugby League.

The league wasn't due to review club licences until after the 2005 season but NRL chief executive David Gallop and chief operating officer Graham Annesley met with Warriors boss Mick Watson in Auckland on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of an early extension for the premiership's emerging super power.

Seven years after entering the premiership, performance is finally starting to match ambition at the Warriors and the club was anxious to build on the momentum of a maiden finals appearance last season and eight straight victories in 2002.

Gallop was impressed with the Warriors' plans for a $22 million refurbishment of Ericsson Stadium that would increase crowd capacity from 20,000 to 28,000 and transform it into one of the finest league venues in the world.

The improvements would include a 7000-seat grandstand underneath a club lounge with leagues-club facilities, eight corporate suites and corporate offices for the Warriors and the New Zealand Rugby League.

The new-look stand, similar to JJB Stadium in Wigan, England, would also house a 760 square metre gymnasium featuring an indoor sprint track, a lap pool and soft-sand tackling pit.

The Auckland Regional Council project was self-funding and would be completed before the 2004 season.

But it was dependant on the league granting the 10-year licence more than two years ahead of schedule.

Gallop agreed in principal with the development and will present the proposal at an NRL board meeting next Thursday.

"Hopefully the partnership board will sign off on the increased franchise licence and we can go forward with our development," Watson said.

"Hopefully they'll take this as a one-off scenario because it's going to increase our capacity.

"At this stage, it really rests on the 10-year licence being granted by the NRL."

Watson was optimistic about getting the go-ahead and stressed the importance to the game internationally of ensuring the continual growth of league in New Zealand.

"We're a club that delivers the most revenue back to the NRL via our Sky broadcasting deal," he said.

"For us to continue to chip away at the rugby union fraternity over here we've got to increase our facilities and give it greater spectacle and a greater event for the fans.

"And if we do go forward with the Auckland Regional Council relationship, it also means they will provide trains and buses to the ground, bringing incremental crowds to the game."

While he and Gallop acknowledged the Warriors' proposal as a healthy one, Annesley was non-committal about the chances of it receiving a favourable response from the NRL board.

"What's standing in their way is, at the moment, there's still under an existing deal that doesn't run out until the end of the 2005 season," Annesley said.

"It's not a formality. It's something the board is going to consider."