Auckland Lions Join NSW Premier League

15th January 2007

The Warriors will no longer be the only stand alone as Kiwi rugby league's in the Australian competition following the Auckland Lions approval toplay in the the NSWRL Premier League. The Warriors have backed the proposal from the Mt Albert Lions, the country's strongest club side, to play in the NSWRL Premier League. They would suit up in blue and white to generate cross-Auckland appeal, play home games at Mt Smart Stadium as Warriors' curtain-raisers and draw on Warriors fringe players. The Lions had been lobbying senior Australian league officials and lodged a formal bid. The team is the defending Bartercard Cup champion and is run from the famous Mt Albert club, which was the forerunner of the Warriors when they bid for a place in the Winfield Cup in 1989. The Lions would still field a Bartercard side, but bid leader Tony Sadgrove, the club's chairman, said the concept was designed to add the "missing rung of the ladder" between that competition and the NRL. "We already have the players, the management and the ground: I think we would be competitive almost immediately," said Sadgrove. "We think it is a very good idea with a lot of pros, and not many cons. People think we wouldn't be able to do it - but we've been through all of this when we first explored the Warriors idea." The Warriors no longer want to farm out spare players to different clubs. Chief executive Wayne Scurrah said the club was weighing its options but admitted Premier League was "a competition we have to get into". He is awaiting an NRL decision on the viability of an under-20 competition.

Officials of the new Auckland Lions rugby league team to play in the 2007 NSW Premier League will be working to a tight timetable when business resumes in the new year. Not all the documentation to approve the Lions' entry into the statewide competition, which includes most NRL club reserve grade sides, could be completed before the holidays. But spokesman Tony Sadgrove said from Auckland yesterday that it had been necessary to advertise for the management and coaching staff who will run the team. Coaching front-runners such as Phil Prescott (Canterbury Bulls and New Zealand A) and Graeme Norton (Kiwis technical adviser) were among those to put their names forward before applications closed last Friday. "There has been a range of people, some wannabes, some who we hoped would come through, and some up-and-comers from different parts of New Zealand – not only as coaches, but also trainers and football managers," said Sadgrove. Kiwis head coach Brian McClennan has already been appointed director of coaching, with the blessing of his New Zealand Rugby League employer. McClennan is contracted to the NZRL until the 2008 World Cup. "We are hoping that Brian will take the coach of this team up to the next level," said Sadgrove. "Brian is probably being head-hunted from all directions and we have to use him while he is still here." Sadgrove emphasised the development nature of a team that will include full-time professionals on the fringe of the Warriors and amateurs emerging from the Bartercard Cup and national age-group competitions. "Our mantra is to recruit from within New Zealand or from New Zealanders overseas. It would only be as a last resort that we would bring someone else in to fill a certain position. We're confident the right people are already here," he said. Players will be invited to apply to trial for the Lions early next month. Sadgrove said rugby union players would be welcome. It was intended to have a squad in training before the end of January. Although rival clubs would have a head start, likely Lions contenders should already be in work with the Warriors or their current franchises. The Lions will be administered by a committee comprising two members of the Auckland Lions (Mount Albert) board, two members of the Auckland Rugby League board, a Warriors representative, and a chief executive who will also fill other roles. Sadgrove expected the annual budget of about $900,000 to be met from sponsorships and gaming trust grants. Sky Television will be approached to broadcast Lions matches, most of them Warriors curtainraisers. He said the Lions would fill the gap between the Bartercard Cup and the NRL and give the Warriors parity with their rivals by acting as their reserve grade team.