NRL: Roosters v Warriors
Where: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney. When: Sunday, April 17, 4pm (NZT)
Live coverage: Sky Sport 4, live updates on Stuff.
Tohu Harris hasn’t been able to contribute anything for the Warriors on the field this season and won’t be playing in Sunday’s game against the Roosters, but he’s doing all he can to help out, off it.
The club’s captain hasn’t played since late last season because of a knee injury and isn’t due back until round nine at the earliest this year.
But he has used his absence to rebuild the culture inside the Warriors, to remind all the players that even though they haven’t played an NRL game for New Zealand in almost three years, they are still a Kiwi club.
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“The biggest thing with the club being away from New Zealand for so long and the amount of players we’ve got who haven’t stepped foot in the country yet,” Harris said while in Auckland this week.
“Cameron (George, Warriors CEO) and I thought we needed to create a connection back to New Zealand, what the culture is and the Maori culture. So that each player knows what they’re playing for and where this team comes from.
“We spent a lot of time on that and creating that connection. There is a lot of work left to do and we’ve got other cultures, Pacific cultures within the club, so that’s something we can continue to build on.”
This is Harris’s fifth year at the Warriors and he’s only spent two of them based in New Zealand.
From the 17 players in the Warriors team who played their last game in Auckland, in August 2019, only Adam Pompey, Kodi Nikorima, Jazz Tevaga and Chanel Harris-Tavita remain.
The other 14 players are gone and ahead of their homecoming game against Wests Tigers on July 3, George felt they needed to rebuild that connection with New Zealand.
“At the end of last year Tohu was named our club captain. It was something we believed we needed to fix, to quickly reconnect with New Zealand and the cultures.
“We took it upon ourselves to meet the Wallabies coach Dave Rennie,” he added.
“I had heard how significant he’d been in that space with the Chiefs and other teams he’s been involved in.
“But also, I wanted to know how he went to the Australian culture at the Wallabies and created something there, which is a similar environment, with Pacific Islanders, Australian and indigenous players in the team.
“He took us through his journey and he’s been really instrumental in the outcome we’ve got.
“He gave us some really good ideas and insights into why you do it and how you do it, not just do it.
“There are certain things that remain within the team and that makes it all the more significant to the players.
“These are traditions that have started and in years to come, these players will be viewed as past players, but they’ve set up the future players with these traditions and that’s an important part of what it is.
“Dave was outstanding in his guidance to us over the off season.”
The new culture inside the team appears to be paying off, with the club on a three-game winning streak.
“The last three results have been pleasing, but for me the most pleasing part is that we haven’t played to our potential,” Harris said.
“We’ve scraped through a couple of games and we’ve won some ugly matches, which is a good sign, especially at the start of the season, because we don’t want to get to the end of the season and those close games that could have gone either way bite us.
“Winning ugly is a good sign for a team and once we start to build momentum, gel together and have our performances continue to improve, I can only see good signs from here.”
As for Sundays’ game against the Roosters and then a trip to Melbourne to face the Storm the following week, Harris said they’re fixtures the Warriors players should be excited about, rather than fear.
“These are the games you look forward to playing,” he said.
“You look forward to playing these sides that for year to year have been playing finals footy.
“You look forward to competing against the top sides, because that’s where we want to be, we want to be a top side and we want them to look forward to competing against us too.”
AT A GLANCE
Roosters: James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou, Paul Momirovski, Joseph Manu, Kevin Naiqama, Sam Walker, Luke Keary; Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Verrills, Lindsay Collins, Nat Butcher, Sitili Tupouniua, Victor Radley. Interchange: Connor Watson, Fletcher Baker, Angus Crichton, Siosiua Taukeiaho. Reserves, Lachlan Lam, Naufahu Whyte, Adam Keighran, Renouf Atoni, Daniel Suluka-Fifita, Joseph Suaalii, Drew Hutchison.
Warriors: Reece Walsh, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jesse Athars, Adam Pompey, Edward Kosi, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Shaun Johnson; Addin Fonua-Blake, Wayde Egan, Bunty Afoa, Euan Aitken, Bayley Sironen, Josh Curran. Interchange: Kodi Nikorima, Aaron Pene, Eliesa Katoa, Taniela Otukolo. Reserves: Viliami Vailea, Pride Petterson-Robati, Rocco Berry, Otukinekina Kepu, Junior Ratuva, Valingi Kepu, Jayden Corrigan.