No other club would do this
We’re three weeks into the NRL season and you’ve no doubt come across a few stories about the Warriors by now.
They’ve probably centred on off-season recruitment, a tough pre-season and some early wins.
That’s all true, but it doesn’t fully explain the depth and breadth of what we’re trying to achieve here. The Warriors are striving for a wholesale culture change. And for a small group, it has meant a return to the classroom.
Our club is running Maori language classes for anyone interested in attending.
Obviously, there’s a fair contingent of Maori boys at the Warriors. Whether they are older or younger, most have left New Zealand at some point in their careers and returned. I’m in that camp. I grew up on a farm in Panguru, in Northland, and left for Brisbane as a teenager. For many of us, there is a desire to brush up on the old language and return to our heritage.
There are about eight or nine players in the class right now and that number will probably increase as the season gets into full swing. It has been a brilliant experience, sitting there in class and learning from scratch. Even at my age!
Our classes usually run for about an hour and the guy in charge, Tumatawhero, is great. On the very first day, he sat us all down and gave a short background of himself, his family history and love of the culture.
Every bit of it was in Maori and very little English is going to be spoken in the class. I guess if you speak English, you’re defeating the purpose.
To begin with, our classwork has been all about pronunciation and sounds. We’re learning the alphabet, the vowels of the language. It’s pretty basic but you’ve got to start somewhere. I know pretty much what is being said most of the time – I spoke reasonably fluent Maori as a kid – but that’s not the case for all of the group.
I can report the Maori language is gradually creeping into our daily lives. Most of the boys know the basics when it comes to speaking our native language, such as hello (kia ora) and goodbye (ka kite) but there are other words are a lot of other Maori words we use every day.
We’re all at different levels, but it’s great sitting there with everyone getting in touch with their cultural side. On the field, I’ve got a bit of a connection with Issac Luke. We’ve been playing together for a fair while, playing internationals and stuff.
Isaac was doing the Maori bit on his own before I got here. Together we are trying to get a lot of the other boys on board with the classes, whether they are of Maori descent or otherwise. We both speak a bit of Maori at training, and sometimes during games. We’ve even swapped a few Maori books to help the whole process along.
Steve Kearney has attended a couple of classes. I’m not sure how much of the language the coach knows but he’s obviously keen to keep it up. With the amount of travel we all do, it can be hard finding space in the schedule to attend classes. Nevertheless, I find it exciting that so many are making a big effort.
My wife Jess is an Aussie but she’s keen to learn how to speak Maori. She’ll be starting lessons in May, which makes me happy and proud. Jess wants to understand people conversing in Maori and be able to communicate. We believe it will be good for our family if all members can speak the native language.
In time, our young kids, Harlem and Taika, will pick up plenty from school and maybe learn some at home as well. They’ll be learning what it’s like to be Kiwi, just as I did all those years ago.
The language thing was one of the many reasons I came home. Even though I left New Zealand to pursue a footy career at 15 years of age, I remained passionate about my native culture, who I am. If ever a chance came to move back there, I knew I’d take it.
I wanted my family to come to New Zealand and experience and understand the culture and grow up in it. I have been away for so long and missed many things – the people, the customs, the food, everything.
Growing up on a farm, the farm life, still resonates strongly with me. I’m lucky too, as Jess’s family also own a farm in Queensland. When you go to a farm it’s quite peaceful, it’s hard work but still kind of relaxing. It takes your mind away from a lot of the city life, and football in general. I’m excited to go to the farm on weekends and be back doing some of the things I like.
On this day 1 year ago you came into our lives, we are so much better people with you in it. You are the cheekiest, Happiest, climbing baby. We will celebrate every milestone with you and make so many memories TAIKA keep being you. The 🌍 is all yours son. Love you with all our hearts Happy 1st Birthday my boy daddy loves you.
ACCOUNTABILITY & THE WARRIORS
I see my role at the Warriors as being part of the leadership group striving for high performances. We are trying to achieve a culture change through hard work and effort.
Most of the new recruits at the Warriors came from highly successful clubs. I enlisted from the Broncos, Tohu Harris and Blake Green came through the Melbourne Storm system, Peta Hiku had been at Manly and Penrith.
Everyone in the leadership fully understands what it takes, what we have to do, and what a winning culture looks and feels like. We are trying to drive those standards.
The word accountability is getting plenty of mentions.
There was a pretty big player changeover over the off-season. A new trainer arrived in Alex Corvo and with him came a new attitude. We need to be honest with each other about our performance on and off the field. For us to perform well, we need to train well.
I’ve known Alex a long time and I always give him crap about his programs. I love taking the mickey. Most training programs are quite generic, nothing really new, but Alex is very good at what he does. He’s putting a different twist to it.
You’ve got to have the right strength to be able to perform on the field. Our training is based around power, speed and agility – what we’ll need in games.
Everyone is buying into it because they want to feel like they belong. Maybe in previous years it didn’t always happen that way. Everyone wants the new feeling or culture at the club to be better than ever before.
I remained passionate about my native culture, who I am. If ever a chance came to move back there, I knew I’d take it.
The boys all know what our standards are and we, the senior players, are the ones setting them. If we aren’t living and breathing them, doing the wrong thing, it doesn’t look good for the rest of the boys. You may have to pull up someone if they are not doing the right thing. You have to do that. Don’t just walk by if you see something that’s not what we are about.
It all comes back to being accountable. I haven’t seen it happen yet, I can’t provide an example. But it’s a long year, people might start slipping up here and there, who knows? This is why the senior core is driving the accountability thing so hard.
I got sin-binned over in Canberra last week. When I got back on the field, I apologised to all the boys for putting them under extra pressure. We were in a tough situation at the time, defending our line for three or four sets. I’m disappointed in myself as I let my team-mates down but sometimes these things happen during the course of a game.
The Warriors have done a lot of training with twelve men throughout the pre-season. Maybe it was coincidence, I can’t really say, but the coaching staff wanted us to learn how to perform under pressure.
It’s not so much about someone being sin-binned but how the team reacts to the change in numbers, who goes where, how to combat fatigue, that sort of stuff.
Everything is staring to sink in felt pretty special putting on the @nzwarriors jersey yesterday even though it was only for photos. A dream of mine as kid was always to play for the warriors, the dream is slowly coming together. Still a lot of hard work to go, but will definitely do everything possible to succeed. #WarriorsNation#TeamBlair
Everyone at the Warriors has been told he has a voice. From the youngest player who has played no games to the oldest guy who has played the most. The good thing about the club is that everyone is rowing in the same direction.
I’m happy with how the season has started. The Warriors had never won three straight games to open a season until now. Wins over the Rabbitohs, Titans and Raiders is a pretty good launching pad but we’ve only taken some early steps. There is a very long way to go.
From those wins, I feel we are showing to be quite calm and clear about what we want to achieve as a player group. We’ve got some really good players. Blake Green, for example, is doing a terrific job getting everyone to stick to the process, and do the things that work for us.
Even when we were down by more than a try with a few minutes left in Canberra, we stayed calm and had a chance of winning the game. I’m pleased with how we have performed but there’s so much more improvement to be made both individually, and as a group.
Plenty of talk has sprung up about our post-try huddles. They are a collective thing, a buy-in from everyone from the top to the bottom. Every time we get in a huddle, it’s quite calm and relaxed. In there, we are working out what our jobs are, what we are going to do. When we talk it’s about refocussing, staying calm. Nobody is over-excited or doing any yelling so that we can get a clear message across to each other.
Winning games early on obviously makes everyone feel better. Three from three gives the entire organisation something to strive towards. There have been some hard times for the boys previously at the club, but they are getting a taste of what it feels like to win.
We are three games into the new season – our fourth is coming up against the Roosters this weekend. We are slowly ticking the boxes even though we aren’t always playing the best football.
Lots of changes are happening at the Warriors and obviously winning is a major part of it. We are looking for improvement and demanding it every week.
We feel that a good pathway is being created for now and the future.
And if that involves a little classroom work, so be it.
LEAVING A BOY, RETURNING A MAN
To be honest, I think transitioning is still happening. I mostly feel at home here in New Zealand but there are times that I don’t.
As the year goes on, I’m sure that will change. I feel comfortable about where we are.
It wasn’t easy leaving Brisbane. The Broncos are a wonderful club.
There was still a year to go on my contract but Wayne Bennett gave me permission to look around. The Warriors had an offer on the table and there was some interest from a couple of other clubs. I ended up signing a three-year deal here in Auckland. I am indebted to Wayne for giving me that green light.
Coming home is a different feeling. I left New Zealand as a boy and return as a man.
Jess is a qualified naturopath, she’s right into the health and wellness side of things. She’s passionate about helping people. Getting a local business up and running is her ambition. She is even studying papers in Maori health here to learn more about my culture. She has been trying to get her name out there, get some live spots on the radio; Jess has been making some appearances, here and there.
Harlem’s school is 500 metres from where we live and Taika’s day care centre isn’t far away either.
My family is happy. I am happy. That’s the main thing.