JUNIOR Warriors coach John Ackland has shaken off the responsibility of being the club’s only representative in play-off football this season.
The Warriors under-20s finished second to the Bulldogs on this year’s National Youth Competition table, and will play the Raiders, who finished third, in Canberra today.
The side is bidding to claim its third straight under-20s title, but Ackland, who guided the Warriors to their 2010 and 2011 triumphs, said they were not feeling any heat.
The Warriors first-grade side, and the Auckland Vulcans, the club’s NSW Cup feeder team, missed out on their respective top eights after poor seasons.
”I don’t know about pressure,” Ackland said. ”We’re still playing, so perhaps it’s given some people something to watch for a little bit longer. I wouldn’t like to think there’s any pressure on us. The boys have done very, very well, really. We’ve played a lot of games with four or five that are going to be able to play for three years.
”We’ve battled some injuries to some of our key guys, so for them to finish first equal [on points] after 26 weeks is a fantastic effort, really.”
Because of the lack of a Warriors first-grade home semi-final, the under-20s must travel to Canberra despite finishing above their opponents, who they beat 26-12 last weekend, on the table.
Ackland is not complaining, however. ”If you want to win [it], you’ve got to win in Australia, that’s the bottom line.
”We’re looking forward to playing in the semi-final. The boys are all keen. We’d play them in a car park if we had to. If we do what we do well, and we stick to what works for us, we’ll be very hard to beat.”
NRL rookie Carlos Tuimavave will return to the under-20s for their play-off campaign, after making five first-grade appearances at fullback late in the season, because of the absence of the injured Kevin Locke.
Ackland said his presence will be welcomed by the junior Warriors.
”He can take a lot of confidence out of the way he played for first grade,” Ackland said.
”I thought he acquitted himself very well in the games that he played, in a tough situation and playing in a position he hadn’t played in a long time. It’s … good to have him back.”
”I think a lot of teams, at this time of year, are playing guys that have had some first-grade experience. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a secret weapon in the competition because everything’s on film and everything gets watched ad nauseam.”
”[But] he’s a good player and brings a lot of experience to the team. He’s played in two semi-final campaigns, so I’m just hoping he can lift it for us.”
Tuimavave will play at five-eighth for the Junior Warriors today, while Peter Hiku is likely to wear the No.1 jumper.
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