Will Evans’ book, Warriors 25: Celebrating 25 Years of the New Zealand Warriors, features a best-ever Warriors line-up made up solely of Australian players. TWL marks Australia Day by revealing the 17 players who made the cut.
*Australian-born New Zealand reps Brent Webb and Nathan Fien were not considered
1. Wade McKinnon (2007-10) – 54 games: 16 tries (64 points)
Warriors fans bemoaned Brent Webb’s exit to Leeds at the end of 2006 en masse. But the electric McKinnon proved an ideal replacement. The former Souths and Parramatta custodian was hailed as the NRL’s buy of the season in 2007, racking up 17 Dally M votes despite spending two weeks on the sideline through suspension. McKinnon’s campaign was perhaps best exemplified by his sensational 60-metre solo try against Penrith. Subsequent seasons were hindered by injury and on-field discipline issues, and the 2009 City Origin rep joined Wests Tigers midway through 2010.
2. Lee Oudenryn (1997-2000) – 61 games: 23 tries, 1 goal (94 points)
Maligned upon his injury-hampered arrival in 1997, speedster Oudenryn – best known at that stage for beating British flyer Martin Offiah in a pre-match sprint as a Parramatta rookie – gradually won over the Warriors’ fanbase. A wholehearted performer regularly required to fill in for marquee absentee Matthew Ridge at fullback, Oudenryn played many memorable hands on the wing in a poorly-performing Warriors outfit – including a hat-trick against the Cowboys in 1999.
3. Brent Tate (2008-10) – 48 games: 12 tries (48 points)
One of the few Australian players to join the Warriors in their prime. Tate – the brother-in-law of skipper Steve Price – was an Australian and Queensland incumbent when he inked a deal with the Warriors midway through 2007. A season-ending injury early in 2009 was a crushing blow to club and player, but the game-breaking three-quarter provided value for money during each season either side of that setback. Tate played eight Tests and three Origins during his time in Auckland.
4. Ivan Cleary (2000-02) – 53 games: 12 tries, 195 goals, 1 field goal (439 points)
The sharpshooter played most of his football at the Warriors in the fullback role, but Cleary was predominantly a centre with the Bears and Roosters, and played eight games for the Auckland-based outfit in that position. The steadying influence in a Warriors backline overflowing with flamboyance, Cleary scored a club record 242 points in 2002 and retired after the grand final. Went on to make a more indelible mark on the Warriors as a long-serving coach.
5. John Carlaw (2001-04) – 35 games: 10 tries (40 points)
Better know as a centre, Carlaw featured eight times on the flank for the Warriors. The Newcastle product beat out genuine wingers Todd Byrne and Justin Murphy for a spot by virtue of his superb performances during the run to the 2002 grand final – including the match-winning try in the prelim upset of the Sharks – and boasting the equal-best winning percentage of any player in Warriors history (65.7 percent).
6. James Maloney (2010-12) – 75 games: 24 tries, 222 goals, 7 field goals (547 points)
A virtual unknown before arrival in Auckland, Orange product Maloney became the most influential No.6 in Warriors history. Equalled the club’s points in a match record (28) in just his third game against Brisbane, scored 10 tries (still his career-high) in both the 2010 and ’11 seasons, and became just the second Warrior to top 200 points during the latter campaign in which he was arguably the most important player in their charge to the grand final. A homesick Maloney returned to Sydney after a largely forgettable 2012 season, going on to win premierships with the Roosters and Sharks – and thwart the Warriors on a regular basis.
7. Greg Alexander (1995-96) – 37 games: 11 tries, 8 goals (60 points)
Shading the likes of Blake Green, Grant Rovelli and Chad Townsend for a spot in the side, ‘Brandy’ Alexander was an Auckland Warriors mainstay during their first two seasons. The Penrith champion was a steady hand in an erratic team, while still capable of producing familiar flashes of attacking genius. Captained the club in 1996 before returning to the Panthers.
8. Steve Price (2005-09) – 91 games: 13 tries (52 points)
One of the biggest names ever to join the Warriors and arguably the only pre-RTS blue-chip player to deliver on their reputation and salary. Price was Dally M Prop and Captain of the Year as the Warriors ended a four-year finals drought in 2007, while he won the club’s Player of the Year award in 2006-07. The inspirational leader played 12 Tests for Australia and 12 Origins for Queensland during his time at the club, before a foot injury prevented him from taking the field in 2010 and ultimately forced him to retire.
9. PJ Marsh (2002-03) – 35 games: 5 tries, 12 goals, 1 field goals (45 points)
Originally recruited as a half, ex-Parramatta livewire was pitched into the hooker role following a season-ending injury to captain Monty Betham. Within two months he was Queensland’s Origin No.9 and was a linchpin of the Warriors’ 2002 grand final charge. A career-threatening neck injury midway through 2003 cruelly curtailed his tenure in Auckland, but he resurrected his career back with the Eels in 2005. Chosen in this line-up ahead of the ultra-reliable and underrated Nathan Friend, who played 86 games for the Warriors from 2012-15.
10. Jacob Lillyman (2009-17) – 188 games: 6 tries (24 points)
One of the most reliable and likable players the Warriors have ever had on their books, Lillyman’s 188 appearances are a club record for a non-New Zealander. ‘Bull’ played 10 Origins for Queensland during his time at the Warriors and was unlucky not to receive a Kangaroos call-up as arguably the NRL’s form front-rower at the back-end of 2011.
11. Michael Luck (2006-12) – 150 games: 7 tries (28 points)
The first non-New Zealander to play 150 games for the club, Luck picked up where fellow North Queensland product Kevin Campion left off in the Warriors back-row. Played 20-plus games in six straight seasons, was an absolute workhorse – including leading the NRL’s tackling charts in multiple seasons – and was one of only three players to feature in all four of the 2007-08 and 2010-11 finals campaigns. Desperately unlucky not to play Origin (he was 18th man for the Maroons in 2007), Luck won the Warriors’ Player of the Year gong in 2009.
12. Ryan Hoffman (2015-17) – 60 games: 11 tries, 1 goal (46 points)
The Melbourne Storm great cut a frustrated figure for most of his three-season tenure in Auckland – particularly during his 2016 stint as captain. While he did not justify his reported $600,000-a-season pay packet, Hoffman tried his guts out every time he pulled on the Warriors jersey and became the club’s first NSW rep in 2015.
13. Kevin Campion (2001-02) – 44 games: 3 tries (12 points)
Pound for pound one of the top three signings in the Warriors’ history. The journeyman back-rower brought a winner’s mentality – honed from three seasons and two premierships at the Broncos – to the Warriors, co-captaining the club to a breakthrough finals appearance in 2001 and featuring equally prominently in the following season’s grand final charge. Beloved by every Warriors fan, Campion spilled gallons of blood for the cause and famously decked former teammate Shane Webcke. Became the Warriors’ first Origin rep when called up for a Queensland debut at the age of 29.
14. Jason Death (1999-2001) – 55 games: 11 tries (44 points)
Hooker, lock, larrikin, cult hero. A skilful and highly combative performer, Death arrived after eight seasons at Canberra and North Queensland, but played the best football of his career in Auckland. He was the club’s Player of the Year in 1999 and helped the Warriors to their maiden finals series in 2001, while also inspiring the ‘Death Row’ cheer squad at Mt Smart.
15. Robbie Mears (1999-2000) – 40 games: 10 tries (40 points)
After relatively fruitless stints with the Roosters and Bulldogs, gritty hooker Mears was a mid-season bargain buy for the Warriors in 1999. Mears was rarely short of outstanding during his 18 months in Auckland and won the club’s Player of the Year award in 2000 before being stiffed by the incoming New Zealand Warriors administration and joining Leeds.
16. Richard Villasanti (2001-06) – 96 games: 21 tries (84 points)
A genuine enforcer who was integral to the club’s early-2000s coming of age. The ex-Tiger’s 2002 grand final performance is chiefly remembered for a controversial hit on Roosters skipper Brad Fittler that many regard as the turning point of the 30-8 loss, but he became the Warriors’ first-ever Australian rep in 2003 and remains the only player to debut for the Kangaroos from the club.
17. Feleti Mateo (2011-14) – 95 games: 10 tries, 2 goals (44 points)
Though his enigmatic tendencies came to the fore too often, the ball-playing back-rower played a key role in the 2011 grand final and starred in the Warriors’ mid-2013 charge. Played 79 games in succession at one stage, including four starts at five-eighth.
Coach: Ivan Cleary – 154 games:– 77 wins, 74 losses, 3 draws)
This was a two-horse race between Daniel Anderson and Ivan Cleary. And while Anderson had the edge in winning percentage – as well as the distinction of leading the Warriors to their first finals series and grand final – Cleary’s longevity and popularity gets him the nod. The Warriors qualified for four finals series in Cleary’s six seasons (and would probably have made it in his initial 2006 campaign if the club had not been docked four competition points), culminating in a grand final appearance in 2011 before his lamentable departure to Penrith.