11 Feb 2020

Warriors players have their say on how they will play

4:27 pm on 11 February 2020

Player-driven changes are creating an optimistic mood at the Warriors ahead of the new NRL rugby league season.

New Zealand Warriors Isaiah Papali'i of the Warriors in the NRL

Isaiah Papali'i will captain the Warriors at the NRL Nines. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2019 www.photosport.nz

Teams have their first hit out of the year this weekend at the annual NRL Nines competition in Perth.

After a long-awaited return to the playoffs in 2018 - the Warriors were again out of the mix last year, down in 13th.

Following their disappointing 2019 campaign the players took their thoughts to the coaching staff on what could change this year.

Young forward Isaiah Papali'i said the squad certainly felt like their views had been valued.

Tailoring the pre-season training to the squad's strengths had pleased Papali'i.

"We've got a lot of skillful boys throughout the whole team so being able to mix in that skill with the conditioning has probably been the most fun part, something as a footy player you always want to have a ball in hand."

Papali'i hoped his selection as captain of the Warriors for the Nines might be a sign of things to come later in his rugby league career.

The 21-year-old is a surprise selection to lead at the pre-season event which has this year shifted from Auckland to Perth.

Papali'i is a former Junior Kiwis skipper and said he would love to be the captain of an NRL club one day.

"Just playing NRL is a dream come true but you always want to strive to be better and any opportunity that's given to me I'll happily take," he said.

Papali'i goes into the Nines tournament with a career total of 48 NRL games after making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2017.

Warriors coach Stephen Kearney said the Nines tournament is as much about preparing for the new NRL season as it is about winning matches.

Just a handful of the Auckland club's prominent first-grade players have been named to take part.

Kearney said the Warriors group taking part had been selected with dual purposes.

"Obviously we want to field a competitive team but it's also an opportunity for some young guys that are new to our system and a couple of guys we've had in our system for a couple of years now," Kearney said.

"It provides an opportunity to give those guys a bit of experience at that level."

The Warriors open their Nines tournament against the Newcastle Knights on Friday and play the Sydney Roosters on Saturday.