A SHORT HISTORY OF…WARRIORS CAPTAINS

A total of 24 players have captained the Warriors in their 23-season existence, including 11 fulltime skippers – each who, for better or worse, added to the fascinating tapestry of the club’s history during their time in charge.

Here’s everything you could possibly want to know about the Warriors players that have had the (c) next to their name.

Legends lead the way

The Auckland Warriors needed a strong, experienced, respected leader for their bold 1995 entry to the Australian premiership – and club management nailed the brief by securing the services of Dean Bell.

An Auckland junior, Kiwis legend and decorated skipper in English club football, the 32-year-old’s close relationship with coach John Monie from their Wigan days sealed the deal.

Bell, who spent three injury- and suspension-hampered seasons with Eastern Suburbs Roosters during the 1980s, was a model captain at centre and lock for the fledgling outfit. The image of Bell leading the Auckland Warriors down the Mount Smart Stadium tunnel remains one of the most iconic in the club’s history.

Tellingly, the Warriors suffered their worst defeat – a 48-6 drubbing at the hands of Newcastle – in the first of a three-game stretch when Bell was unavailable.

Incumbent New Zealand Test captain Duane Mann was in charge for the Marathon Stadium debacle in what would prove his last first-grade start for the club before being usurped at hooker – in both the Warriors and Kiwis line-ups – by Syd Eru. Another Kiwis Test skipper, 22-year-old Stephen Kearney, led the Warriors until Bell returned.

Bell reportedly offered to go around for the Warriors again in 1996 but was turned down, a personnel bungle that would come to sum up the club’s tortured early seasons. Penrith’s 1991 premiership captain Greg Alexander was handed the reins for Auckland’s sophomore campaign before returning to the Panthers in ’97.

1995 CAPTAINS: Dean Bell (19), Stephen Kearney (2), Duane Mann (1)
1996 CAPTAINS: Greg Alexander (16), Kearney (5)

Ridge’s rocky reign

Super League defector Matthew Ridge’s bid to head home and skipper the Warriors in 1996 was blocked by the courts, but after eventually relenting and returning to Manly the brilliant fullback further cemented his status as one game’s finest leaders.

The combative Ridge played an integral role in the Sea Eagles’ drive to grand final glory that year, before steering New Zealand to an outstanding 3-0 cleansweep of the touring Great Britain side.

The historic ruling that gave the rebel Super League competition the green light for 1997 allowed Ridge to take up his role as the Warriors’ main man – but his three-season stint at the club could not have been in starker contrast to his ’96 heroics for Manly and the Kiwis.

Injuries saw Ridge play just half of the Warriors’ games during the Super League premiership season. He missed six games of the 1998 NRL campaign, while an ugly spitting incident with a Canterbury Bulldogs fan brought his suitability to the captaincy under the microscope. Kearney was the chief back-up during Ridge’s frequent absences, but the gun back-rower joined Melbourne in 1999.

Ridge then copped a three-match suspension early in 1999 for man-handling referee Paul Simpkins in an infamous loss to Balmain, before being outed for eight weeks for inexplicably raking the face of Canberra’s young winger Lesley Vainikolo – just two games into his return from the first ban.

The brilliant-but-reserved Stacey Jones initially took on the captaincy responsibilities, but coach Mark Graham rolled the dice by installing mid-season recruit John Simon as skipper in just his second game for the Warriors.

Simon retained the job when Ridge returned. Ridge retired at the end of the year despite having a year to run on his contract, while Simon captained Auckland for most of 2000 but Jones finished the year with the role.

Former New Zealand Test half Aaron Whittaker, who made just eight first-grade appearances for the Warriors, captained the club’s reserve grade side to grand finals in 1996 (ARL premiership) and ’97 (Super League).

1997 CAPTAINS: Matthew Ridge (9), Kearney (8), Dennis Betts (1)
1998 CAPTAINS: Ridge (18), Kearney (4), Pongia (2)
1999 CAPTAINS: John Simon (12), Stacey Jones (7), Ridge (6)
2000 CAPTAINS: Simon (16), Jones (7), Terry Hermansson (4)

‘Little General’ marshals the troops

After the dramatic buyout of the club and Daniel Anderson’s arrival as coach, Jones and journeyman recruit Kevin Campion were made co-captains for the 2001 season. It proved an ideal combination, with Jones the quiet talisman and enforcer Campion leading the Warriors to their first finals series.

Curiously, hardman hooker Monty Betham, barely 24 years of age with just 47 NRL appearances to his name when the 2002 season started, took over as skipper the following season. But a knee injury just two games into the year wrecked Betham’s campaign and Jones captained the Warriors to a historic minor premiership and grand final appearance.

Betham was back on deck and back as captain in 2003, guiding the Warriors to the preliminary final, while he was again at the helm during the club’s disastrous ’04 season, in which he was restricted to 13 games. Awen Guttenbeil was Anderson’s first-choice replacement as Betham endured an early-season layoff.

2001 CAPTAINS: Jones (26), Kevin Campion (23)
2002 CAPTAINS: Jones (22), Ivan Cleary (3), Monty Betham (2)
2003 CAPTAINS: Betham (24), Jones (2), Guttenbeil (1)
2004 CAPTAINS: Betham (13), Guttenbeil (8), Jones (3)

The Price is right

Australian Test prop Steve Price, cruelly denied a grand final win as Bulldogs skipper by injury in 2004, immediately stepped into the captaincy at the Tony Kemp-coached Warriors in ’05. Jones deputised in his farewell season at the club as Price battled injury mid-season.

Despite Jones’ departure, the Warriors’ squad boasted ample leadership under rookie coach Ivan Cleary from 2006: New Zealand great Ruben Wiki, who helmed the Kiwis’ famous Tri-Nations triumph in 2005, proved an ideal fill-in during Price’s less-frequent absences over the next few seasons.

Price, meanwhile, further entrenched his standing as one of the game’s finest leaders. After guiding the Warriors to just the second (and, to date, last) top-four finish in their history in 2007, the 33-year-old was named Dally M Captain of the Year, as well as picking up the Prop of the Year gong.

His guidance and front-row form was no less instrumental in 2008 as the Warriors surged to a preliminary final appearance.

2005 CAPTAINS: Steve Price (16), Jones (7), Betham (1)
2006 CAPTAINS: Price (20), Ruben Wiki (4)
2007 CAPTAINS: Price (23), Wiki (3)
2008 CAPTAINS: Price (17), Wiki (5), Micheal Luck (5)

Cleary’s bombshell

Price was plagued by injury during 2009 and with Wiki retired, workhorse back-rower Micheal Luck proved a worthy stand-in.

But coach Cleary sprung a major surprise when he named 23-year-old second-rower Simon Mannering as his new skipper for 2010. Ultimately, Price never returned to the field, forced into retirement by a toe injury.

Already a veteran of 100 NRL games and 18 Tests, Mannering fit into the actions-not-words style of captaincy, but he quickly prospered in the role and led the Warriors to a fifth-placed finish at his first attempt and a grand final in 2011.

With Mannering sidelined during the Warriors’ woeful late-season fadeout in 2012, coach Brian McClennan gave the gig to club legend Manu Vatuvei, who joined a select group of players to captain a first-grade team from the wing.

The Warriors lost all four games under ‘The Beast’ by a combined 139-54, but it was a deserving mark of respect for the prolific tryscorer.

The retiring Luck also enjoyed one last outing as skipper in his penultimate game for the club, a rare highlight in an injury-ravaged campaign for the popular Queenslander.

2009 CAPTAINS: Price (14), Luck (10)
2010 CAPTAINS: Simon Mannering (18), Luck (5), Brent Tate (2)
2011 CAPTAINS: Mannering (28)
2012 CAPTAINS: Mannering (19), Manu Vatuvei (4), Luck (1)
2013 CAPTAINS: Mannering (23), Sam Rapira (1)
2014 CAPTAINS: Mannering (24)
2015 CAPTAINS: Mannering (24)

Mannering steps down

The widely respected Mannering assumed the New Zealand Test captaincy in 2013, a tenure that included Four Nations glory in 2014 and a historic Anzac Test victory in 2015. But the Warriors’ continual failures and the arduous media requirements of the club role saw Mannering abdicate at the end of 2015 after a club record 137 games as skipper.

Ryan Hoffman, who joined the Warriors in 2015, made no secret of his desire to become an NRL captain. Coach Andrew McFadden duly bestowed the responsibilities upon the former Melbourne Storm great, overlooking the likes of Shaun Johnson and new recruit and incumbent Kiwis captain Issac Luke.

Hoffman took to the role with gusto, but his short-fused temperament with referees and inability to hide his frustration did the Warriors few favours. While honest and reasonably accommodating, the veteran’s defensiveness did not endear him to local media contingent.

Roger that

Incoming coach Stephen Kearney produced a Cleary-esque shock when he took the captaincy off Hoffman – a former teammate of Kearney’s at the Storm – and named the 23-year-old Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as the Warriors’ new on-field general. Despite coming back from a knee reconstruction that ruined his first year in Auckland, as well as the team’s poor results, ‘RTS’ became just the third captain after Price (2006-07) and Mannering (2011, 2013-14) to take out the Warriors Player of the Year honour.

Tuivasa-Sheck’s 2017 form was inaccurately criticised in some quarters, but Kearney had no reservations about retaining the fullback as skipper for 2018 – and he has grown into the role spectacularly. Electrifying and courageous in the No.1 jumper and one of the NRL’s standout players across the opening eight rounds of the premiership, RTS is developing into the archetypal ‘lead by example’ captain.

He now approaches the accompanying responsibilities of the captaincy – dealing with referees, media, rallying his troops when their backs are against the wall – with confidence and relish (easier when you’re winning) and shapes as a front-runner to become New Zealand’s next Test skipper. It’s still early days for Tuivasa-Sheck, but injury permitting he will sit behind only Mannering, Price and Jones on the Warriors’ all-time captaincy register before the end of the 2018 season.

Great fullback captains are relatively rare but hold a cherished place in rugby league’s narrative: Frank McMillan, Jim Sullivan, Clive Churchill, Keith Barnes, Ken Thornett, Fred Griffiths, Graeme Langlands, Darren Lockyer, Anthony Minichiello – even Ridge (at international level) and the Kiwis’ 1999-2000 skipper, Richie Barnett. Tuivasa-Sheck is capable of putting his name up alongside those icons. (Fun fact: if Tuisvasa-Sheck can lead the Warriors to a grand final triumph, he will become only the second fullback to do so after Minichiello, who captained the Roosters to NRL glory in 2013).

2016 CAPTAINS: Ryan Hoffman (23), Mannering (1)
2017 CAPTAINS: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (23), Hoffman (1)
2018 CAPTAINS*: Tuivasa-Sheck (8)
*Season still active

MOST GAMES AS WARRIORS CAPTAIN (1995-2017)

137 – Simon Mannering
80 – Steve Price
74 – Stacey Jones
40 – Monty Betham
33 – Matthew Ridge
31 – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
28 – John Simon
24 – Ryan Hoffman
23 – Kevin Campion
19 – Micheal Luck
19 – Dean Bell
19 – Stephen Kearney
16 – Greg Alexander
12 – Ruben Wiki
9 – Awen Guttenbeil
4 – Terry Hermansson
4 – Manu Vatuvei
3 – Ivan Cleary
2 – Quentin Pongia
2 – Brent Tate
1 – Duane Mann
1 – Dennis Betts
1 – Sam Rapira

[YouTube – Rugby Forever]

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