Stacey Jones’ ability has been proven many times over writes John Chelsea. New Zealands favourite son has been the spearhead for the Warriors for so many years; however it seems his return to the NRL in 2009 comes without the expectations of the past .
Only 32 years of age, Jones rejoins the Warriors and could prove even more potent as an interchange or impact player; working in tandem with the in-form Nathan Fien.
For coach Ivan Cleary, it’s an extra ace up his sleeve. Not only can he introduce Stacey Jones in short spells for high impact, Jone provides the ultimate injury backup either halfback or five-eighth.
Cleary confirmed the role Jones with play; saying “It’s a bit unfair on Stacey to say we’re pinning our hopes on him because that’s not the case at all,”
“He’s come back because he wants to play and he thinks he can help.
“I guess how much help and in what context, the good thing is I’m sure he will improve.
“I don’t believe our success or failure will hinge solely on Stacey” confirmed coach Cleary.
The NZ Warriors have been knocking at the door in the past few seasons, last year only falling one game short of a Grand Final appearance after coming from 8th spot in their finals campaign.
Both players and coach at the Warriors have been blown away by how quickly Jones has slotted back into the side and regained his fitness levels from past seasons.
“Yeah, I’m a little bit surprised for sure,” Cleary told the media.
“It’s not easy to do what he’s done, he hasn’t played in the NRL since 2005. He has taken part in the Super League but he was in France and while I wouldn’t say semi-retirement, he was certainly winding down. And then he didn’t play at all last year.”
For Ivan Cleary he certainly has an abundance of talent in the halves for this season; with Stacey Jones and Nathan Fien gunning for the no.7 and new buy Joel Moon seen as a contender for pivot; pushing Michael Witt to the lower grades in the pre-season.
Competition for spots is the ideal scenario for teams; ensuring players push themselves at training and providing the ultimate backup should injury strike.
However the Warriors have lost some depth in the forwards, with valuable experience lost with the depature of Ruben Wiki, Logan Swann and Wairangi Koopu. But finding ready-made brutal forwards has rarely been an issue for New Zealand, the loss of the veterans leaves the door open for some keen and eager big boppers to join the Warriors forward pack.
Cleary’s reign at the Warriors has certainly been an impressive one, as a rookie coach in 2006 he narrowly missed the finals but has made the cut ever since; securing a finals assault in 2007 and 2008.
“We’ve been progressing and getting a bit stronger each year,” Cleary said. “There’s been some similarities as well – all three seasons we’ve started slowly and come home strong – it’d be nice to start a bit quicker.
“We’ve definitely tried to address it, we’ve been doing a few little things differently.”
Once glance over their star studded roster sees the likes of Price, Tate and McKinnon all listed. Throw in some game breaking halves and a batch of production line forwards and you see why this New Zealand team is set to make a huge impact on the National Rugby League in 2009.