NRL: Wing Marcelo Montoya relishes chance to captain NZ Warriors in pre-season opener against Wests Tigers

Before the 2024 NRL season even begins, NZ Warriors winger Marcelo Montoya finds himself in an unfamiliar role.

With most of the club's frontline stars not required for their pre-season opener against Wests Tigers on Sunday, Montoya has surprisingly been handed the captaincy, overseeing a makeshift line-up of borderline first-graders, hopeful reserve-graders and promising juniors.

"It's a massive honour for myself to have the 'C' next to my name, especially for this great club," he said. "I'm excited for the game, it's been a long pre-season, and I'm looking forward to running out there with some of the young boys and having some fun."

Marcelo Montoya at Warriors training.
Marcelo Montoya at Warriors training. Photo credit: Photosport

One glaring exception is the man inside him - a former club captain and centurion, decorated Dally M Medal winner and an NZ Kiwis-All Blacks double international.

Ironically, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has come to him seeking advice, as he tries to make the shift from fullback to centre, after two years in the 15-a-side midfield.

"Roger knows what he's doing in terms of his footy sense and his smarts on attack, but it's been nice to be able to help Roger here and there where I can," reflected Montoya. "The professional thing about Roger is he's come to me and asks.

"He's come to a lot of the boys and asked. He's very professional, he knows what he wants to do and he's going to be massive for us this year."

Since arriving from Canterbury Bulldogs in 2021, Montoya, 27, has carved a permanent place in the Warriors backline, either at wing or centre, but understands Tuivasa-Sheck's return further congests the logjam of challengers for those positions.

With Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad nailing down the fullback position and understudy Taine Tuaupiki undoubtedly a player for the future, there's an abundance of talent contesting the other four positions across the back.

Missing from the pre-season squad are Nicoll-Klokstad, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Adam Pompey, Rocco Berry, but the RTS-Monotya combination may become a regular fixture in the first-string line-up.

Even with so many missing, Montoya isn't underplaying the importance of this early hitout.

"It's a big game for some boys who probably haven't played at this level," he said. "For myself, it's about getting my game on and build some combinations.

"It's a trial match, but it's important for the club and important for those young boys to get an opportunity to play."

Despite the honour, Montoya doesn't intend overplaying his role as skipper-for-the-day.

"The 'C' next to your name doesn't really mean too much," he said. "It just means you have to play your kind of game.

"There's many leaders in this team and this club, and we've got an environment where it doesn't matter if you've played one game or 100 NRL games, there's a space here where the boys can talk up and voice their opinion and there's no judgment there."