This week we profile the most ‘mature’ players to have donned the Warriors jersey. Interestingly, six of the top eight were Aussie imports, while Jacob Lillyman and Stacey Jones (who rejoined the club as a 32-year-old) were the only players on the list who weren’t originally recruited after their 30th birthday.
Adam Blair, who turned 33 in March, can join this list and climb as high as seventh by season’s end, while Blake Green will become the 12th player to turn out for the Warriors after their 33rd birthday if they make it to week two of the 2019 finals.
TWL TOP 10 – OLDEST WARRIORS
10. Stacey Jones – 33 years and 121 days (2009)
Still only 18 when he was blooded in first grade by John Monie during the Auckland Warriors’ foundation season, Jones carved out a legacy as the club’s – and arguably New Zealand’s – greatest-ever player over the next 11 seasons before heading to Super League at the end of 2005. The Warriors hauled the legendary halfback out of retirement in 2009 and Jones produced some memorable highlights in a difficult campaign, while also extending his then-club record to 261 games.
9. Dean Bell – 33 years and 122 days (1995)
The fledgling Warriors’ gamble on recruiting a 32-year-old as their inaugural skipper paid handsome dividends. Kiwis and Wigan great Bell played 19 of Auckland’s 22 games in that 1995 campaign and was one of their most reliable performers. Inexplicably, the club declined to offer him a contract for ’96 and he returned to England with Leeds Rhinos.
8. Phil Blake – 33 years and 154 days (1997)
A famed journeyman and one of the era’s great entertainers, the versatile Blake scored 121 tries in 234 games for Manly, Souths, Norths, Canberra and St George from 1982-94. The 31-year-old scored the Auckland Warriors’ maiden premiership try from fullback and crossed nine times in the club’s first four matches, but he was shuffled around the team sheet thereafter – including a stint at hooker – and was used in first grade just twice in 1997 before hanging up the boots.
7. Jacob Lillyman – 33 years and 164 days (2017)
Lillyman was a fresh-faced 25-year-old forward with 62 games for the Cowboys and four Origins for Queensland to his credit when he arrived at the Warriors in 2009. He went on to become one of the club’s longest-serving players, racking up 188 appearances (sixth on the Warriors’ all-time appearances register) and representing the Maroons a further 10 times. ‘Bull’ was moved on by Stephen Kearney at the end of 2017 and linked with Newcastle.
6. Ryan Hoffman – 33 years and 220 days (2017)
The Warriors forked out big money on a three-year deal for 31-year-old Melbourne Storm stalwart Hoffman in 2015. While the former Australian Test back-rower tried his guts out in all 60 appearances for the club and became its first NSW Origin rep, it’s debatable whether the Warriors saw sufficient return on their hefty investment. Hoffman captained the Warriors in 2016 but incoming coach Kearney, a former Storm teammate, replaced him with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck last year, and the veteran returned to Melbourne at the end of 2017.
5. Jeff Robson – 33 years and 270 days (2016)
The oldest player ever to be recruited by the Warriors, the club no doubt had visions of Robson playing the steady halves role that Blake Green has performed so effectively this year. Robson was a highly-effective operator for Parramatta and Cronulla during the previous seven seasons – steering the clubs to a combined four finals series – but he failed to fire for the Warriors in 2016 and he returned to the Eels after just seven top-grade appearances.
4. Mark Horo – 34 years and 151 days (1997)
A veteran of 84 games for Parramatta and Western Suburbs from 1990-95, Auckland product Horo played his first game for the Warriors in 1996 just a few days after his 33rd birthday. The tough forward played the last of his 16 Tests for New Zealand in ’96 and was a mainstay of the Warriors’ pack at lock or prop, missing just three games in two seasons before hanging up the boots at the end of 1997. His record as the club’s oldest player lasted a decade.
3. Nathan Friend – 34 years and 190 days (2015)
Former Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast hooker Friend arrived in 2012 to compensate for the dual departure of Aaron Heremaia and Lance Hohaia. A wholehearted, popular workhorse, Friend played 86 games for the Warriors across four seasons – the last 69 in succession – but his stint will predominantly be remembered for his astonishing upside-down, between-the-legs pass that led to a try against the Storm in 2015, which won the Dally M Headline Moment of the Year award. He finished an admirable 242-game NRL career back at the Titans in 2016.
2. Steve Price – 35 years and 164 days (2009)
Incumbent Test and Origin prop Price was a prized signing for the Warriors in 2005 after more than a decade with the Bulldogs. He was immediately handed the captaincy and became one of the club’s best-ever recruits in 91 games, winning the Dally M Prop and Captain of the Year gongs in 2007 and leading the Warriors to a second straight finals campaign in ’08. Price played 16 matches for Australia and 12 for Queensland while based in Auckland. Coach Ivan Cleary dropped a bombshell by replacing Price as captain with the 23-year-old Simon Mannering in 2010, but a toe injury forced the front-row stalwart into retirement without playing a game that season – preventing him from becoming only the second player after Brad Fittler to make 200 appearances for one club and break the 100-game barrier with another.
1. Ruben Wiki – 35 years and 250 days (2008)
Another 200-game club legend linked with the Warriors 2005: Canberra great Wiki, who ironically as a rookie Raider back-flipped on a contract to become a foundation Auckland Warrior. All was forgiven, however, as the blockbusting-centre-cum-forward-enforcer produced an inspirational 87-game, four-season stint in his hometown. Wiki extended his Kiwis tenure to a world record 55 Tests and became the first non-Australian to make 300 premiership appearances before retiring at the end of 2008.