Stacey Jones returns for Warriors in 2009

AFTER stunning the league world by announcing he was coming out of retirement to play for the Warriors next season, halfback great Stacey Jones dead-batted questions about a possible return for the Kiwis, too, telling the Herald yesterday: “Mate, I’m just worried about getting through training.”

But few within the game would doubt the 32-year-old “little general” – who made his debut for the Warriors in 1995 and is considered such a legend that he was able to make yesterday’s shock announcement in the Stacey Jones Lounge at Mt Smart Stadium – is up to playing at any level.

Warriors captain and Kangaroos prop Steve Price said he thought Jones might have even made a comeback for New Zealand in the World Cup – despite his only appearance in more than a year having been Ruben Wiki’s testimonial match for the All Golds against NZ Maori in New Plymouth last month. Jones won 46 caps with the Kiwis between 1995 and 2006.

It was that game that got him thinking of playing in the NRL again and also convinced Warriors coach Ivan Cleary that Jones was the big-game playmaker the club hasn’t had since his departure at the end of the 2005 season to join newly formed French Super League outfit Catalans.

Jones said he never officially retired but opted out of the final year of his deal with Catalans and could not consider playing for any other club this year as he was contracted to the Dragons.

“The truth is I had originally signed a new contract to play on with Les Catalans this year but it was a bit rushed,” Jones said.

“By then we’d [he, wife Rachelle and their three children, Chellcey, Waiana and William] had two great years in Perpignan and we were homesick and really keen to come back.

“The club was good about it and let me go but on the condition I couldn’t play for any other club in 2008. After training to play for the All Golds in New Plymouth and playing in that game, I realised how much I had missed being out there.

“A few days after the match, Ivan asked me whether I’d be interested in making a return to the NRL. While I accept I have a lot of work to do to get back to NRL standard, I really want to give this a shot. My motivation is to try to help the club win a premiership.”

Price, who played with Jones in his first season at the Warriors in 2005, welcomed the news of his comeback for next season, as did the club’s other Australian representative, Brent Tate.

“He’ll be a really good influence on the young guys, they’ll learn a lot off him,” Price said. “It’s like the Bulldogs with Ricky Stuart coming to the club. For someone like Brent Sherwin to be playing with Ricky and training with Ricky … it helped him so much.

“Knowing Stacey, this would have been going through his head a long time. We were always hinting at him. I actually thought he might have played in the World Cup, but this is obviously what he had in the back of his mind.”

Tate said: “I just think he gives us more confidence, an air of confidence. He’s such a legend, and his ability … the younger guys will feed off that”.

Cleary, another former teammate, wouldn’t commit to Jones being the Warriors’ first-choice halfback next season but admitted he had an edge over the likes of Nathan Fien, Grant Rovelli and Liam Foran in that he was a proven matchwinner.

“The difference he does have is that he’s a proven big-match player,” Cleary said.

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