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New Zealand Warriors claim 'unprecedented influx' in rugby union signings

By Ben Smith
Rocco Berry of the Warriors warms up ahead of the round nine NRL match between Newcastle Knights and New Zealand Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium, on May 05, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

The rise in popularity of the New Zealand Warriors has lead to an ‘unprecedented influx’ in the number of former schoolboy rugby union players signing with the club.


The club claims to have signed 36 players into their development system with no previous rugby league experience, from rugby union schools where no rugby league is played.

The trend is a shift according to the club, who haven’t been able to secure this number of top union prospects before.

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On the list of 36 names publicly stated, 17 are from high profile Auckland schools including St Peter’s College, De La Salle, Sacred Heart and Saint Kentigern’s.

But the reach extends as far as Balclutha in the deep south, while a handful from Rotorua, Hamilton and Wellington are named.

Current New Zealand Warriors starting centre Rocco Berry, son of former All Black Marty Berry, is one of the success stories after attending St Pats Silverstream in Wellington. Tom Ale of Rotorua Boys High is another in the first grade squad.

The news comes as reports of players being steered away from league while pursuing rugby union have surfaced.


One 1st XV booster who is affiliated with the Warriors academy programme is considering withdrawing support for the rugby union school after players were encouraged to commit solely to union according to The Code.

Roosters star Joseph Manu, who has signed a deal with Toyota Verblitz for a code switch, told the Daily Telegraph he avoided prestigious rugby union schools over fears he would be pressured away from league.

Manu grew up in Tokoroa, the same town as Wallabies star Quade Cooper, and attended Tokoroa High School. He attended Chiefs games regularly.

Manu has of course committed to a code switch with no intention of returning to rugby league at this stage.


The battleground for talent will always be high performing rugby schools with New Zealand’s system renown as a pipeline for producing players.

Warriors CEO Cameron George believed the influx of rugby union talent to league will continue. Speaking to Jason Pine’s Newstalk ZB show, George believed that league can become the “number one” sport in New Zealand.

He said that they had a “few big surprises” in store in their battle to win the minds of sports fans in New Zealand.

“We’ll never beat the All Blacks, and nor should we,” he said.

“Them and the Kiwis should be the most respected teams in their competitions in their sports.

“I do, I respect the All Blacks like you wouldn’t believe.

“But in terms of week-to-week competitions, Super Rugby and NRL, yeah, we will win and we will get there.

“We’ll keep going. We might be up against six or seven franchises but I can assure you through all of our work, we’ve got a few big surprises over the next few years.”

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Chiefs Mana 64 days ago

It’s a good, timely wake up call for NZ Rugby (seem to be a few of them lately!) - sort out the bureaucratic nonsense at board level. We can’t expect to stay the number one option without keeping fans/players engaged. We’ve obviously been bleeding players to league for years but can’t let the floodgates open (although I think this headline is hyperbolic as it’s a result of a recent Warriors pathways system where they are tracking things more closely)

Understand the need to focus boys on rugby if they’re at a proud rugby school too, don’t think it’s harsh at all re Barakat in Hamilton. Reward the committed players with squad positions. An elite 1st XV system in NZ has done more for league than they even realise, think it’s good to protect our game further.

MattJH 65 days ago

As long as New Zealand youth are involved in sport they are passionate for, and are well supported, it’s all good. I love league as well as rugby.
NRL clubs have long since scouted the First 15 competitions, the NH and Japan scout super rugby and NPC.
It’s a miracle there’s any players left for the all blacks to pick from.

Jon 65 days ago

Hopefully this will mean a new Auckland league team to support in the west. Big Warriors fan but it’s very, very stale on that front and I’d like the option of another team if it was to watch league again. League needs to step up BIG time if its to get anywhere, another AK team and something from the capitol or south is a must for the game.

BeegMike 65 days ago

That’s what happens when you are scared of scrums

Andrew 65 days ago

  1. Heard this so often over the yrs. One Warriors CEO even claimed future kids wouldnt know which came first, the ABs or the Warriors. Always keen to talk themselves up.
  2. That fella Barakat who says he will drop HBHS sponsorship because HBHS quite rightly wants its players to focus on rugby is an odd fit as a sponsor in the first place. As a recruitment official for the Warriors he seems to regard his sponsorship as a paid licence to help to select players from HBHS for the league side. Maybe he should find a league school to fund.

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