As seen on

On a chilly July afternoon in Melbourne Will Warbrick begins rattling off the handful of sporting moments that changed the trajectory of his life and led to him finding a home on the right wing for the Storm.

He describes in detail the try that lifted him to the top of a 96-strong group at a Rugby Sevens talent identification tournament in 2018, and likewise the one months later which triggered a change of heart among All Blacks sevens selectors, who had previously all but written him off as a candidate to advance beyond the national development team.

Then there were the 13 words from Craig Bellamy which convinced him to switch codes to a sport he’d hardly played before, just months after he became an Olympian and won a silver medal for his country.

“‘I believe you have got what it takes to be an NRL player’,” Will recalls when asked about Bellamy’s message.

“I’ll never forget it. That’s what I needed to hear.”

Speaking to as part of the Hisense Upgrade Season Series, the 26-year-old says those words and all of those little moments are essential to his story, because without them he was never destined to go anywhere in sport.

Go back before his rapid, and somewhat unlikely, rise in rugby sevens and Will was a high school athlete who couldn’t a look in with the 1st XV rugby team and at times struggled even to make the second-string side.

When he finally did get a sniff of an elite opportunity via the aforementioned Ignite7 talent competition, he was only three months away from celebrating his 21st birthday.

Even if somewhere deep down he didn’t feel like the boat had yet sailed on that opportunity, he says his biggest issue was feeling like he didn’t belong on the vessel in the first place.

“Imposter is a good word for it. I was a small-town kid that saw other people and didn’t think I could live up to what they did,” Will says.

Growing up, mum says it was never about a lack of ability, she said I just never had confidence in myself.

Will Warbrick

“I think the high school sport experience damaged my confidence and my enjoyment of rugby at the time too.

“I was a late bloomer who was in the mindset that if you didn’t peak in high school then you probably never would.

“I was always an athlete growing up, always did running, but being an athlete is different to being a good sportsperson.

“There was a lack of a sense of belonging around talented sportspeople.”

He switched to rugby league briefly in 2015 in the hope of finding opportunities in the 13-aside game.

When he attended a national Māori age-group tournament swarming with talent scouts that year the only attention he attracted was from a man who told him he should try a different sport.

“There was a bloke there representing AFLNZ who said I should give it a go,” Will says.

“So I spent a season playing AFL and it ended up being the first time I got to represent my county in anything, as part of the New Zealand U18s.

“St Kilda at the time had a development pathway deal in NZ and I thought if I was good enough I could get a trial with them.

“But that never worked out for me and if I’d wanted to make it I would have needed to move to Australia, which would have been a pretty big move at the time for a kid.”

While the experience had given him a reason to believe he had what it took to exist and excel in an elite sporting environment, Will stopped playing sport altogether the following year and instead focused on studying to become an engineer at university.

However, struggles with mental health led him to return home and take up a job in mid-2016, and it was back in Kawerau – the small Māori majority settlement on New Zealand’s East Coast, not far from where his England-born ancestor Abraham Warbrick landed and settled in the 1840s before marrying the daughter of a local iwi chief – that Will’s journey changed course.

A group of friends convinced him to lace up the boots again for the Te Teko Rugby Club and before long the flame was back.

“Going back to a grassroots Māori rugby team seemed to really help me enjoy sports again and with my life at the time, it gave me more purpose,” he told the Hisense Upgrade Season Series.

“I was playing for enjoyment and not trying to make something out of it.”

While that was his mindset, mum Carroll hadn’t given up hope of her boy making it in sport and signed him up to the Ignite7 competition, in which some of the country’s best athletes came to trial for a place in the New Zealand sevens development squad.

Will begrudgingly attended, struggling to hold his own in most of the physical testing but starring in the sprint category and impressing once a ball was introduced to drills.

He ended up being one of three male athletes picked to advance to the development camp early in 2019, and despite injury preventing him from taking part in most of the activities, he did enough in the opposed session to convince selectors he was worthy of a spot in the national squad.

Two years later he was an Olympic silver medalist, and in an alternate universe Will would be about to go to his second Olympic Games in Paris this month with the Kiwi sevens team.

Instead, he’s firing on all cylinders for a Storm side who are in pole position to claim the minor premiership and challenge for the title later this year, following an excellent debut campaign in 2023 which saw him nominated for Dally M Rookie of the Year honours.

“If the sevens boys win a gold medal I’ll probably feel a bit like I am missing out, but I’m in a good spot now. I have no regrets,” he says.

“It looks pretty good over there in Paris and it’s cold here in Melbourne right now, but I’m enjoying what I am doing.

“I am where I need to be.”

While life is good now and he’s a first-choice player for the Storm, initially Will feared he’d made a big mistake in moving across to league.

“When I first got here I wasn’t amazing anyone. If anything I was humbled and it was a shock to the system,” he says.

I thought, ‘I’ve stuffed up here, I’m not cut out for league’.

Will Warbrick

“I struggled with the contact aspect, the collisions and the volume of it, and then the running forward and back 10 metres, and obviously going from a 14-minute game to an 80-minute game.”

After an at-times frustrating first year with the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Queensland Cup, the moment to become an NRL player arrived in Round 1 of 2023 and Will seized it.

He’d go on to score 17 tries in 25 games that season and earn a spot in the New Zealand ‘A’ team at the end of the year.

In keeping with the Hisense Upgrade Season theme, Will says he has plenty of people to thank at the Storm for taking his game to a new level since he arrived at the club.

“Not just Craig [Bellamy] – obviously he’s the G.O.A.T – but all the players and the other coaches, no doubt they have accelerated my development in a league sense,” he says.

The only reason I came to league was because it was with the Storm. I had opportunities to explore a pre-season at the Warriors and the Wests Tigers… I don’t think I would have crossed over for any other team.

Will Warbrick

20 May 2024

The Warriors’ heroic 22-20 victory over the Panthers on Sunday will go down as one of the club’s most impressive triumphs and an unforgettable one for 21-year-old centre Ali Leiataua.

The nephew and namesake of the legendary Ali Lauitiiti, young Leiataua put the name Ali back on the One New Zealand Warriors’ first-grade team sheet for the first time in 19 years when he made his NRL debut last year in the club’s 15th-round clash.

Last week’s contest against the Roosters saw multiple injuries to the Warriors including frontline centres Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rocco Berry who were both sidelined ahead of Magic Round, giving Leiataua the opportunity to make his second NRL appearance.

“Some tough shoes to fill… lucky the boys around me had my back and it was good to get the win out here in Magic Round,” shared the young talent post-match.

With the Panthers up by six at the break, the sin-binning of Isaah Yeo three minutes into the second half for a professional foul was the first turning point and on the very next Leiataua crossed for his first try at NRL level.

To complement his try Leiataua produced 105 run metres, 2 line breaks, and 11 tackles in the nail-biter which eventually saw the Warriors hang on to a 2-point lead and claim the win of the round.

In the club’s system since he was 14, Leiataua was a foundation member of the One New Zealand Warriors’ first SG Ball Cup under-18 side in 2020.

Before the Warriors stage, the born-and-raised South Aucklander was a standout in age-group competitions throughout his younger years earning numerous New Zealand Rugby League representative selections.

The Papatoetoe Panthers junior featured in the NZRL 2019 Resident 16s and 2020 New Zealand 18s Schools national sides, as well as Auckland’s National 20s team in 2021.

Most recently Leiataua has been in outstanding form for the club’s New South Wales Cup side throughout the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

In 2023 following his NRL debut and exceptional NSW Cup performances, Leiataua was selected for the first-ever Kiwis A team who went on to beat Tonga A in the inaugural Pacific Championships.

1 May 2024

As seen on

Exciting second rower Jacob Laban ended something of a drought when he became One New Zealand Warrior #286 on NRL debut against South Sydney last Saturday.

Not since 2016 had a player with Wellington connections made his club debut with the Warriors.

That was Warrior #206 Issac Luke who, while Taranaki born and bred, had strong links with rugby league in the Capital through attending St Bernard’s College and Wainuiomata High School as well as playing for the Wellington Orcas at a junior level.

Now Laban, from one of Wellington’s best-known rugby league families, has added a new chapter.

While born in Samoa, Laban is Wellington through and through. Another St Bernard’s College product, he played for the Randwick Kingfishers before coming into the One New Zealand Warriors’ pathways system.

He moved to Auckland where he was initially signed in 2021 – along with Zyon Maiu’u – while finishing his schooling at Kelston Boys’ High School. Jacob’s younger brother Dezman, also a back rower, is in the Warriors’ Harold Matthews Cup (under-17) side for Sunday’s week one finals clash against Parramatta.

The Wellington influence on the Warriors began on opening night when two players with links with the Capital were there on March 10, 1995 – Warrior #8 Gavin Hill and #11 Stephen Kearney.

Players considered for this exercise qualify in a number of ways – by birth or living in the region at some point.

Former One New Zealand Warriors captain Ryan Hoffman, for instance, spent two years in the area when his father transferred on business; Hoffman junior attended Hutt Intermediate School and played age group representative rugby union during his time in Wellington.

Marc Ellis was born in Wellington and educated at Wellington College before his move to the University of Otago while Auckland-born Sione Faumuina went to Rongotai College.



#8 GAVIN HILL (Oriental Rongotai, Hutt Old Boys rugby union)
1995-1996, 14 games, 9 goals
#11 STEPHEN KEARNEY (Kapiti Bears, Randwick Kingfishers)
1995-1998, 79 games, 11 tries
#19 SYD ERU (Upper Hutt Tigers)
1995-1999, 59 games, 15 tries
#26 RICHIE BLACKMORE (Poneke rugby union)
1995-1996 & 2001, 35 games, 13 tries
#29 MARC ELLIS (Wellington College)
1996-1998, 36 games, 11 tries, 29 goals, 1 field goal
#54 ZANE CLARKE (Randwick Kingfishers)
1998, 5 games
#63 PETER LEWIS (Upper Hutt Tigers)
1999, 11 games, 1 try
#78 PAUL WHATUIRA (Wainuiomata Lions)
2000, 5 games
#98 SIONE FAUMUINA (Rongotai College)
2002-2006, 88 games, 18 tries, 33 goals
#106 VINCE MELLARS (Wainuiomata Lions, Petone Panthers)
2003-2004, 7 games, 1 try
#125 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels, University Hunters)
2005-2018, 301 games, 63 tries
#142 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
2008-2017, 212 games, 17 tries
#162 ALEHANA MARA (St George Dragons)
2010-2012, 16 games
#175 SAM LOUSI (Hurricanes rugby union)
2012-2014, 3 games
#180 NGANI LAUMAPE (Hurricanes rugby union)
2013-2014, 30 games, 11 tries
#183 CHARLIE GUBB (University Hunters)
2013-2017, 40 games 1 try
#195 RYAN HOFFMAN (Hutt Intermediate School)
2015-2017, 60 games, 11 tries, 1 goal
#206 ISSAC LUKE (St Bernard’s College, Wainuiomata High School)
2016-2019, 78 games, 13 tries, 57 goals
#286 JACOB LABAN (Randwick Kingfishers)
2024, 1 game

10 April 2024

As seen on

Five years into his time with the Storm and with just 81 minutes of NRL to his name, Jack Howarth knows it’s easy for people to “believe what you can’t see” but has shrugged off any suggestions of an attitude problem holding back his development.

A long-time star in the making, Melbourne fans were given just their second glimpse of the teenage prodigy after he was injected into Craig Bellamy’s forward pack against the Broncos – five years after starring in the 2019 Australian Schoolboys alongside the likes of Reece Walsh, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Sam Walker.

With several of his former teammates already playing well over 50 NRL games, many reports have speculated reasons for Howarth’s limited opportunity in first grade, but the aspiring back-rower is confident 2024 will put the rumours to rest.

“I don’t know where that came from. I haven’t ever really been late or got in trouble for things for me to have attitude about,” Howarth told

“I never saw the comments, I just got told about it but it is what it is. I haven’t played much so it’s easy for people to believe whatever they hear.

“Maybe at school I had attitude at times but not in the footy world, I’m way too scared of Belza [Craig Bellamy] to try and upset him.

“Hopefully I get more opportunity to get out there on the field to show the player that I am.”

Standing at 193cm tall and now an imposing 105kg, the Māori All Star is blessed with a natural frame for a footballer but said developing his rugby league IQ has been the focus over the past few seasons.

“I’ve had to learn a lot more technical stuff about the game. Obviously throughout my juniors I was pretty naturally athletic and mobile,” Howarth said.

“But nailing down my role as a back-rower and understanding all of the little techniques is almost more important than being mobile and athletic.

“I was a bit raw through my juniors, I was always good at running and stuff but I think over the last year and a bit, I’ve really come to understand that it’s not just about that – it’s really important to understand the purpose of things.

5 April 2024

As seen on

It was just two weeks ago that towering teenage prop Ben Te Kura put in what Karmichael Hunt believes was the best performance of his career so far.

Last night the young forward made his NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos in a narrow loss against the Melbourne Storm. He featured in the Kiwis A squad in the recent 2023 Pacific Championships, playing in the Queensland Cup since 2022.

Despite the Brisbane side’s loss, Te Kura’s debut was made sweeter when he crossed for his first-ever try in the NRL.

Hunt, who coaches Te Kura for the Souths Logan Magpies Hostplus Cup team, has watched the 19-year-old develop over the past two years, not only maturing as a person but starting to understand his body and his strength more.

And in the Magpies’ Round 3 clash with the Norths Devils – Te Kura’s former club – Hunt saw him go to another level.

“He’s only three games in (to season 2024) but I especially thought his second half against Norths was some of the best footy he has played,” Hunt said.

“It’s like he’s realised his own strength and what he can do with that body of his.

“He was running really powerfully and causing a lot of havoc for the defence.”

Te Kura – who stands at 205 centimetres – started playing rugby league at the age of six for the Redcliffe Dolphins, staying with the club throughout all his junior years.

When he signed with the Brisbane Broncos, he moved to the Norths Devils where he played Mal Meninga Cup and made his Hostplus Cup debut in 2022.

He played four Cup games in his initial year before switching to Souths Logan last season where he donned the jersey 20 times in a massive year for the Magpies, under the tutelage of Hunt for the first time.

Hunt said from what he has seen, Te Kura is ready for the occasion and knows Broncos coach Kevin Walters would not have named him if he didn’t think he could handle a tough Storm outfit.

“He’s still a teenager but he’s matured quite a bit over the last couple of years, especially when it comes to his footy detail and effort areas,” Hunt said.

“Last year was his first full season of Cup and he had a really great year. As the year went on, he got better and better and by the end he was our best middle.

“When he actually runs through the line and causes havoc with his power, he’s almost unstoppable.

Hunt – who also made his NRL debut as a teenager with the Broncos – said the only job Te Kura had to do was to be himself.

While he admitted the Storm is one of the most daunting teams in the competition, he had no doubt the Wavell State High School product would bring much-needed impact from Brisbane’s bench.

“A trip to Melbourne is as hard as it gets for a 50-gamer, let alone someone making their debut,” Hunt said ahead of Te Kura’s maiden game last evening

“One thing that can be rest assured though when you’re making your debut is you have a team full of mates that will back you up and look after you.

“I know Benny will be feeling nervous and excited as well.

“My advice for him would be the same advice I’d give everyone else: it’s just another game of footy.

“The quicker you realise that and settle into the occasion, all you can do is what you’ve been called in to do.”


Auckland, New Zealand, October 9, 2023

Eight NRL rookies and two teenagers yet to play a first-grade match feature in the New Zealand Kiwis A squad to face Tonga A in the Labour Weekend triple-header at Eden Park on Saturday, October 21.

With their eye firmly focused on the future, the national selectors have also included a mix of more established NRL players in a group of 15 players named today.

They will go into camp with the 21-man New Zealand Kiwis squad announced last week for the Pacific Championships encounter with beaten 2022 Rugby League World Cup finalists Toa Samoa.

Three of the 21 players in the Kiwi squad will be added to the New Zealand A line-up next week.

The eight NRL rookies named are Storm second rower Joe Chan (21), Warriors back rower Kalani Going (26), Storm back rower Jack Howarth (20), Warriors centre Ali Leiataua (20), Raiders middle forward Trey Mooney (21), Warriors hooker Paul Roache (24), Warriors fullback Taine Tuaupiki (24) and Storm winger William Warbrick (25).

Yet to play in the NRL are Warriors second rower Jacob Laban (19) and Broncos front rower Benjamin Te Kura (18). Both filled the 18th man role for their NRL sides in the final round of the 2023 regular season but didn’t make it onto the field.

The squad’s most experienced player is Eels centre Bailey Simonsson (25), who played the first of his 85 NRL matches for Canberra in 2019, the year he represented the Kiwis at the World Nines in Sydney.

Prop Pasami Saulo (25) has made 49 appearances for the Knights and the Raiders while centre Asu Kepaoa (23) has played 40 times for Wests Tigers and fellow centre Rocco Berry (22) has 31 appearances for the Warriors.

Also included is Roosters and Māori All Stars utility Zach Dockar-Clay (28), who played 14 times in his NRL debut season for the Bulldogs in 2022.

“It’s really exciting for New Zealand Rugby League being able to bring so many players together at the same time,” said New Zealand Kiwis head coach Michael Maguire.

“The players brought into the New Zealand A squad will all have the opportunity to be in camp with the Kiwis, to train alongside them and to show their potential as future Kiwi internationals.

“It’s really important for us to have an opportunity like this, not just for players striving to become Kiwis but also for coaches.”

Coached by former Kiwi captain Nathan Cayless, the New Zealand Kiwis A team faces Tonga A in the first game of the Labour Weekend triple-header (1.30pm kick-off) at Eden Park followed by the Kiwis Ferns taking on Tonga Women’s (3.45pm kick-off) and the New Zealand Kiwis against in their Pacific Championships encounter (6.00pm).


New Zealand Kiwis A Squad v Tonga A




One NZ Warriors


Melbourne Storm


Sydney Roosters


One NZ Warriors


Melbourne Storm


Wests Tigers


One NZ Warriors


One NZ Warriors


Canberra Raiders


One NZ Warriors


Canberra Raiders


Parramatta Eels


One NZ Warriors


Brisbane Broncos


Melbourne Storm

As seen on

Reimis Smith is hoping his role in the Storm’s finals campaign and the combination he has developed with wing sensation Will Warbrick can help earn him a place in the Kiwis squad for the upcoming Pacific Championships.

Smith, who missed last year’s World Cup after suffering back-to-back pectoral injuries, has played for the Junior Kiwis, represented Maori All Stars and was chosen in an extended New Zealand squad in 2018 but is yet to make his Test debut.

The 26-year-old lined up on the left wing for the Storm in Friday night’s preliminary final against Penrith, but 18 of his 22 NRL appearances this season have been at right centre alongside Warbrick who is also in contention for Kiwis selection.

Warbrick, an Olympic silver medallist with the All Blacks Sevens team, is vying with the likes of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Ronaldo Mulitalo, and Jamayne Isaako for a wing berth, but the Kiwis don’t have as many options in the centres.

“I missed out on the World Cup last year because of my injuries so I would love to get another opportunity to represent New Zealand,” Smith said.

“To share that stage with Will would be special. We are good mates, as well, so to achieve something like that with him would be unreal.”

“We played a lot of games together this year, with me at centre and him on the wing, so we have got that connection and I have seen how far he has come because I have been beside him most weeks.”

The pair have become good mates off the field and Smith, who first two seasons with the Bulldogs were on the wing, said he had tried to help Warbrick with his transition to the NRL.

“He is very professional, and I am sure they have similar values to the Melbourne Storm in the All Blacks system,” Smith said.

“He has asked for advice about things he can do better, and we have had those chats. He has really taken everything on board, and we have learned a lot of each other.”

Switching to the wing was a relatively smooth transition for Smith, who was just pleased to be playing after fearing the worst when he suffered a groin injury in Round 18.

A pec injury last year limited him to just nine NRL appearances after he was forced to undergo surgery for a second time following a mishap in the gym.

“I have been through quite a bit the last 18 months, particularly last year, so it is great to be back in this position and playing in a preliminary final,” Smith said.

“The first time I did it was hard but the second time it was more mentally tough than physically tough.”

“There is a very small percentage of people who do that injury again and especially to do in the gym – it made it even harder that it didn’t happen on the field.”

“It has been a long road for myself so to be back where I am I have to give myself a little pat on the back because it was tough.”


16 August 2023

Tickets for the rugby league triple-header at Eden Park are on sale now |

Tamaki Makaurau Auckland’s Eden Park will host a blockbuster rugby league triple-header between New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga on Saturday, October 21st, as part of the newly announced Pacific Championships in partnership with the NRL.

The Kiwis will face Samoa, igniting a new Pacific rivalry hot off last year’s World Cup momentum; the Kiwi Ferns will line up against Tonga, and an NZ Kiwi A team will assemble for the first time in 17 years.

Thanks to the current depth of the New Zealand talent pool, the NZ Kiwis A team will consist of current and future Kiwi-committed NRL stars who will take on a Tonga A team as the opening match of the rugby league triple-header.

“How special to bring the best players in the world back home to play in front of their communities. Without the support from Tātaki Auckland Unlimited this series wouldn’t have happened,” says NZRL CEO Greg Peters.

“We’re excited to work with Samoa to bring their rugby league heroes back home and unite fans across New Zealand and the Pacific.

“No other code can produce such a celebration of culture and passion; the atmosphere will be unmissable.”

The 2023 Pacific Championships is a two-tiered competition with six men’s teams and seven women’s teams taking part in the tournament across two pools.

Waikato’s FMG Stadium will host the Pacific Cup grand final on November 4th.

“I firmly believe the Tamaki Makaurau Auckland triple-header and Waikato final will be the biggest international rugby league events on home soil since the 2017 World Cup,” adds NZRL CEO Greg Peters.

Hamilton City Council’s General Manager of Venues, Tourism and Major Events, Sean Murray says, “We’re working hard to deliver an exceptional Pacific Championship Final at FMG Stadium Waikato. The team looks forward to passionate fans and the exposure this game will bring to our city and region.”


Full schedule below:

Week One – October 14-15

  • Australia v Samoa (men) and Australia v New Zealand (women) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
  • PNG v Cook Islands (men) and Samoa v Fiji (women) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Week Two – October 21-22

  • New Zealand v Samoa (men), New Zealand v Tonga (women), and NZ Kiwis A v Tonga A (men) at Eden Park, Auckland
  • Fiji v Cook Islands (men) and PNG v Cook Islands (women) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Week Three – October 28-29

  • Australia v New Zealand (men and women) at AAMI Park, Melbourne
  • PNG v Fiji (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Week Four – November 4-5

  • The Final of the men’s Pacific Cup tournament on November 4 in Hamilton, New Zealand
  • The Final of the men’s Pacific Bowl tournament on November 5 at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

The Pacific Championships will be staged in 2023 and 2024, after the NRL and NRLW Premiership seasons, and will include men’s and women’s teams from Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Cook Islands.

Tickets for the rugby league triple-header at Eden Park are on sale now |