NRL: NZ Warriors success poised to arrest trans-Tasman talent drain from South Island

Regular visits by NZ Warriors to the South Island are intended to help fuel the resurgence of rugby league there and build a connection with the club.

The game's currently experiencing rising grassroots numbers and schoolboy success on the Mainland, but former Warriors coach Frank Endacott warns the top southern talent has long had an eye on Australia, rather than Auckland.

This year, St Thomas of Canterbury broke 23 years of Auckland dominance to bring home the NZ secondary schools championship, beating traditional powerhouse St Paul's College in the final.

St Thomas of Canterbury celebrate their NZ secondary schools title.
St Thomas of Canterbury celebrate their NZ secondary schools title. Photo credit: Photosport

Southern league is on the rise and it's being noticed.

"There are talent scouts that come through," said Pacific Series event organisers Shanell Temaru. "We have NRL scouts that come through every year.

"It's not something we advertise openly, but they do float around."

In New Zealand, you'd think one club has a head start.

"As an agent, the first thing I said to my young players was, 'Do you want to go to the Warriors?'," said Endacott. "Ninety-nine percent of them said, 'No, I want to go to Australia'.

"It's a pity, because I would rather see the players go to the Warriors, but it's their choice."

Endacott says that choice is made easier by years of neglect.

"Being in Auckland, the Warriors felt they had plenty of young players up there, especially in South Auckland, and they always said to me, 'You can't have a player as good as... you have to have one better'.

"I believed that a lot of these players down here were better. They went to Australian clubs and a lot of them have done real well."

Among them, Brisbane Broncos Jordan Riki, Dolphins wing Jamayne Isaako and West Coaster-turned-North Queensland Cowboy Griffin Neame.

"I've been in Townsville for five years now," said Neame. "I'm very glad I went over and the rewards are coming now."

That trans-Tasman talent drain may be about to dry up, with the Warriors commiting to games at Christchurch for the next three seasons and adding more junior teams.

Warriors star Addin Fonua-Blake poses for Christchurch fans.
Warriors star Addin Fonua-Blake poses for Christchurch fans. Photo credit: Photosport

"In 2018, we had 3-4 teams, developing teams happening and then obviously that got stopped [by COVID-19], so we're starting all of that again," said Warriors chief executive Cam George.

"You'd be surprised how many kids are from Christchurch and the South Island, who are already on our books."

Endacott agrees: "I mean the Warriors have just had a great season and if they can repeat that with another great season next year, I think that'll help make kids want to play for the Warriors."

That tide might already be turning.