A SHORT HISTORY OF…WARRIORS IN STATE OF ORIGIN

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Just six players have won State of Origin selection from the Warriors – but each carved a niche in interstate football’s narrative while representing Queensland and NSW from the New Zealand-based club. Meanwhile, there have several near misses, unlucky omissions, and past and future reps to wear our colours.

Just two players with Origin experience turned out for the Auckland Warriors during their first four seasons: ex-NSW reps and ’95 Warriors originals Greg Alexander and Phil Blake. The attacking wizards both debuted during the 1989 series, though neither enjoyed successful tenures in the sky blue jumper.

Penrith linchpin Alexander, a two-time Kangaroo tourist, holds the unwanted distinction of playing the most Origin matches without winning one, losing all six he appeared in from 1989-91. Blake had long been touted as a future international after exploding on the first-grade scene with Manly in 1982, but the then-Souths five-eighth made his one and only Origin appearance off the bench in the Blues’ whitewash-sealing 36-16 defeat in game three of the ’89 series.

Another former NSW half, John Simon, who played one Origin in 1992 as a 19-year-old Illawarra Steeler and all three matches of the ’97 series while at Parramatta, linked with the Warriors midway through ’99.

The Warriors finally produced an Origin representative in 2001, when new recruit Kevin Campion – a Super League Queensland rep from Adelaide Rams in 1997 – was called up to debut for the Maroons at 29 years of age. A two-time premiership winner with Brisbane, Campion played all three matches of Queensland’s famous against-the-odds series triumph under former Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.

The tough, influential Warriors lock started in the unfamiliar hooker spot in the first two games – despite being named in the No.13 jersey for both – and racking up a combined 68 tackles, before contributing a line-break and two offloads from six runs off the bench in the decider.

Campion was retained for the 2002 series opener, again shunted to hooker after being named at lock with selected dummy-half John Doyle reverting to the bench. He made 38 tackles but was a Queensland casualty as Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus, Brett Hodgson and co. ran riot in a 32-4 NSW victory.

In a bittersweet selection call for the Warriors, Campion and Doyle made way for the exciting PJ Marsh, the former Parramatta half who was proving a sensation as the Warriors’ hooker in 2002 following Monty Betham’s season-ending injury. Marsh was integral as the Maroons fought back to retain the Origin shield in a sensational drawn series.

An automatic pick for game one in 2003, the Gladstone product racked up a game-high 36 tackles in 25-12 loss. But a career-threatening neck injury suffered playing against the Eels three days later ruled him out of the remaining two games – ultimately opening the door for future icon Cameron Smith to debut in game three.

Marsh never played for the Warriors again but bravely returned to the field with Parramatta in 2005. He made a surprise return to the Origin arena in 2008 after linking with Brisbane, coming off the bench in one match.

The Warriors could easily have had another couple of Origin reps during the club’s early-2000s resurgence. A fringe Maroons contender during a career-best 2002 campaign, cult hero prop Mark Tookey was named in the QAS Emerging Origin squad at the end of that season, alongside rookie Warriors utility Brent Webb.

Tookey – who admitted his poor pre-season training habits hindered his ability to push for Origin selection during his career – was fated never to play for Queensland, while Cairns junior Webb, who was again in the Emerging Origin squad in early-2004, qualified for New Zealand on residency grounds and played 17 Tests for the Kiwis from 2004-08. The abundance of Maroons fullback contenders – including Rhys Wesser, Billy Slater, Clinton Schifcofske, Matt Bowen and Karmichael Hunt – may have influenced Webb’s allegiance call.

Richard Villasanti created history as the Warriors’ inaugural Australian Test representative in 2003, featuring in a shock 30-16 loss to a Kiwis side boasting 11 of his clubmates (plus coach Daniel Anderson) at North Harbour Stadium. ‘Villa the Gorilla’ went to the UK on the subsequent Kangaroo Tour but did not add to his Test tally, while the Canberra product failed to pique the interest of the Blues’ selectors as his career misfired in subsequent seasons.

The Warriors’ 2005 recruitment drive included the acquisition of Queensland reps Steve Price and Nathan Fien.

A veteran of 16 Origins when he shifted to Auckland, former Bulldogs skipper Price retained his spot in the Queensland front-row for the 2005 series opener and was named man-of-the-match in a historic golden point victory. Injury ruled him out of the remaining two games (Queensland lost both) but Price played 11 of the next 12 Origins as the Maroons set about creating a record-breaking dynasty.

The veteran workhorse scored a try in Queensland’s series-opening win in 2007 but his 28-match Origin tenure ended on a sour note two years later, knocked out during an infamous late-game stoush with NSW prop Brett White in the ’09 dead-rubber. Injuries forced Price to call time on his career before he even pulled on the boots in 2010. Price also played 12 Tests for Australia during his time at the Warriors.

Hooker-half Fien, who played his only Origin alongside Campion in the Maroons’ game two loss in 2001, was selected in the QAS Emerging Origin squad during the 2005 and ’06 pre-seasons. But the switched his allegiance to New Zealand during the latter year, overcoming the farcical ‘Grandma-gate’ saga during the 2006 Tri-Nations to play 22 Tests for the Kiwis – including some iconic tournament final upsets of the Kangaroos at Suncorp Stadium.

Micheal Luck, who joined the Warriors in 2006 after beginning his career at the Cowboys, was desperately unlucky not to earn his Origin spurs while in Auckland. The backrow ironman was called into the Maroons’ squad as 18th man for game three of the 2007 series and was named in the Emerging Origin set-up in 2009, but ultimately he was unable to break through for a debut for all-conquering Queensland.

A pair of late-2000s recruits resumed their Origin careers after arriving in Auckland. Brent Tate joined the Warriors in 2008 and played all three matches of Queensland’s series victory that year. The marquee three-quarter missed the Maroons’ 2009-10 campaigns through injury but he chalked up eight Tests for Australia while at the Warriors before heading to the Cowboys in 2011. Tate retired with 23 Origins and 26 Tests to his name.

Hardy North Queensland prop Jacob Lillyman played four matches for the Maroons from 2006-08 before being lured to the Warriors. He earned a belated recall during a career-best 2011 season, featuring in a further 10 Origins as a Warrior. ‘Bull’ was on the winning side in nine of his 14 Origins but felt the selectors’ axe following a heavy series-opening defeat in 2017, his last season before also being shown the door by the Warriors.

Lillyman is the Warriors’ only Origin rep since 2015.

Enigmatic ex-Parramatta duo Wade McKinnon (2009) and Feleti Mateo (2012-13) both represented City Origin during their eventful stints at the Warriors but were unable to take the next step. Fullback McKinnon’s NSW path was blocked by the likes of Anthony Minichiello, Brett Stewart and Kurt Gidley, while Mateo’s backrow competition was equally stiff.

Previously unheralded James Maloney developed into one of the NRL’s top playmakers during his 2010-12 stay with the Warriors. But the Blues preferred to hand five-eighth debuts to Jamie Soward (2011) and Todd Carney (2012) before giving Orange product Maloney his shot in 2013 – his first season with Sydney Roosters.

Nevertheless, Maloney holds the distinction of being the only former Warrior to subsequently make their Origin debut after leaving the club. The dogged half played 14 matches for NSW, scoring 70 points and featuring in the Blues’ 2018-19 series successes.

Utility Shaun Berrigan – a 15-Origin Maroon from 2002-07 – spent the 2011 season with the Warriors, while Melbourne outside-back Dane Nielsen played three matches for Queensland in 2011-12 before turning out for the Warriors in 2013-14. But neither was a realistic chance of rep selection during their time in Auckland.

The Warriors produced a NSW rep at last in 2015, veteran recruit Ryan Hoffman retaining his place in the Blues’ second-row and playing all three matches of a series that would be the swansong of a 14-match Origin tenure. Hoffman is the only player to have a losing Origin record while representing from the Warriors.

Since Hoffman and Lillyman were last called upon by their states, eligible Warriors players have barely created a ripple in the Origin selection stakes. Blake Green was touted as a potential 31-year-old NSW debutant following his stellar start with the Warriors in 2018, but the Blues instead opted for Penrith halves pairing Nathan Cleary – a Warriors ballboy during his youth and son of former coach Ivan – and Maloney.

Brothers-in-law Price and Tate (games two and three in 2008) are the only Warriors to feature in an Origin match together. Lillyman and Hoffman opposed one another in all three matches of the 2015 series – a unique occurrence in the Warriors’ Origin narrative.

WARRIORS ORIGIN REPRESENTATIVES
Kevin Campion (Queensland) – 2001-02: 4 matches (won 2, lost 2) – 0 points
PJ Marsh (Queensland) – 2002-03: 3 matches (won 1, lost 1, drew 1) – 0 points
Steve Price (Queensland) – 2005-09: 12 matches (won 9, lost 3) – 4 points (1 try)
Brent Tate (Queensland) – 2008: 3 matches (won 2, lost 1) – 4 points (1 try)
Jacob Lillyman (Queensland) – 2011, 2014-17: 10 matches (won 6, lost 4) – 0 points
Ryan Hoffman (New South Wales) – 2015: 3 matches (won 1, lost 2) – 0 points

 

 

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