Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
The New Zealand Warriors have cried "foul" over a Mt Albert Rugby League club promotion that offers young players a chance to train with the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The Mt Albert Lions first applied to play in the Australian premiership competition in the early 1980s, a vision that became the Warriors, but now the National Rugby League (NRL) club is accusing the Lions of trying to undermine its operation.
The problem has arisen through Mt Albert Bartercard Cup coach John Ackland being contracted to Sydney side the Bulldogs as a talent scout.
At the heart of the row is a recruitment poster for the Mt Albert under-16 Bartercard Cup team that has been distributed to schools.
It carries Mt Albert and Bulldogs logos and the slogan "Get yourself discovered by the NRL".
The poster says the best players from the under-16s "will be selected to go to Sydney to train with the NRL Canterbury Bulldogs".
Warriors chief executive Mick Watson accused Mt Albert of trying to undermine the joint New Zealand Rugby League-Warriors development programme.
"The enemy is not Australian clubs, the enemy is not rugby union - it is people within New Zealand rugby league," he said of player poaching.
Mt Albert chairman Tony Sadgrove was dismayed at what he considered a misunderstanding and promised to review the poster, but defended the club's position and vowed allegiance to the Warriors.
"We are trying to create opportunities for players and to give them something to keep them in the game," he said, decrying the numbers who shift to rugby first 15s at about the age of 16.
Ackland's association with the Bulldogs offered the chance for youngsters to visit the Sydney club, train and meet their players, and Mt Albert saw that as an incentive, Sadgrove said.
The only player who had signed with Canterbury was prop Hutch Maiava, who had been suggested to the Warriors but not picked up.
Sadgrove agreed that conspiracy theorists might see the fact that the Bulldogs will train tomorrow at Mt Albert's home ground as evidence of a too-cosy relationship.
He said they could think what they liked. Newcastle trained at the ground last weekend.
Mt Albert had promoted seven of last year's domestic league-winning line-up to the Warriors.
Vinnie Anderson had been signed and his younger brother Louis, attached to the development squad, but the others were rejected, Sadgrove said.
Fullback Lee Finnerty had gone to Halifax, former Warrior Peter Lewis to Penrith, and South Sydney were chasing brothers Sala and David Fa'alogo.
Ackland's contract with Mt Albert precluded him doing deals with the Bulldogs of which Mt Albert were not aware.
"He knows that every one of our players gets a go at the Warriors first. But if there's no potential for them at the Warriors we want kids to know they still have a chance," Sadgrove said.
The Warriors agree that is fair enough. If there were half a dozen good halfbacks in Auckland they did not want all their careers to stall behind that of Warriors' ace Stacey Jones.
"But this is like a kick in the guts," Watson said.
"We played Souths (last year in pre-season) in a Mt Albert jersey. Fowlds Park was the first place the Warriors (under Watson) played a trial.
"We feel we've given them respect as the club that fought for our existence... Mt Albert wanted a pathway for players and now they're trying to kill that."