‘The Little General’ stands tall as New Zealand’s greatest-ever halfback and arguably the nation’s most decorated rugby league player of all time.

 

Earmarked for the game’s highest levels after captaining the Junior Kiwis and representing Auckland in 1994, Stacey Jones forced his way into the fledgling Auckland Warriors’ No.7 jersey shortly after his 19th birthday and was the club’s leading light for more than a decade.

 

A Kiwis debut at the 1995 World Cup – the first of 46 Test appearances across 12 seasons for the grandson of legendary Māori  forward and 23-Test Kiwi Maunga Emery – followed at the end of a whirlwind rookie season. Jones’ run of 19 consecutive Tests from that initial call-up encompassed series victories over Great Britain at home and in England, and momentous wins over Australia in three successive years with the diminutive playmaker at the forefront.

 

 

“When I gave him his first start for the Kiwis I remember walking down the hotel hallway, all the players had their doors open and there was Stacey sitting there watching TV in the Kiwis’ number seven jersey – he was just so proud of it,” Jones’ first New Zealand coach, Frank Endacott, recalls.

 

The Warriors’ player of the year in 1997 and co-captain of the club’s drive to a maiden finals appearance in 2001, Jones put together a year of achievement arguably unmatched by any player in the history of New Zealand rugby league in 2002.

 

The 26-year-old skippered the Warriors to a historic minor premiership and grand final appearance; despite the 30-8 loss to Sydney Roosters in the NRL decider, Jones carved his name into grand final folklore with a sparkling individual try.

 

 

He subsequently captained the Kiwis for the first time in six post-season Tests against Australia, Wales, Great Britain and France. Unsurprisingly named New Zealand’s player of the year for the second time, Jones became just the second Kiwi to win the prestigious Golden Boot and was a Sportsman of the Year finalist at the Halberg Awards.

 

Rare instinctive brilliance and game-breaking ability often overshadowed Jones’ qualities as an outstanding organising halfback, brave defender and leader with a tenacious competitive streak and willingness to step up in the clutch moments.

 

“He’s just a true legend of the game. Pound for pound probably the best player the Warriors have ever had and one of the best halfbacks the Kiwis of all time,” Endacott says.

 

“Stacey understood the game, he was a natural. When you were in a tight spot you could rely on Stacey to do something to keep you in the game. He wasn’t a talkative player early on but he certainly got better as the years went on. A great bloke and he deserves all the accolades he gets.”

 

 

Jones’ first Warriors farewell preceded a starring role in the Kiwis’ 2005 Tri Nations triumph. The veteran’s commanding performance in the watershed 24-0 defeat of the Kangaroos in the Leeds-hosted final – his fifth Test victory against Australia – just days after returning from Auckland following the birth of his third child underlined his commitment to the black-and-white jersey, as well as his penchant for dominating on rugby league’s biggest stages.

 

Retiring from international football after New Zealand’s golden point loss to Australia in an epic 2006 Tri Nations final, Jones’ tallies of Test appearances (46), tries (16) and points (160) were equal-second, equal-third and second, respectively, in Kiwis history at the time.

 

Jones’ two seasons with Super League club Catalans Dragons included captaining the French outfit to a historic Challenge Cup final appearance in 2007, while he came out of retirement for a memorable one-season stint back at the Warriors in 2009.

 

“Stacey arrived as a teenage sensation, replaced a true legend in Gary Freeman at the ’95 World Cup and also replaced an Australian international in Greg Alexander as the Warriors’ halfback,” prominent rugby league journalist, author and historian John Coffey explains.

 

“Since then I’m sure he has been an inspiration to many youngsters to take up rugby league with his performances for the Warriors and Kiwis. He was a great leader on the field for club and country – on attack he was a genius and on defence he had a lot of courage.”

 

An impressive coaching CV includes stints in charge of the Warriors’ under-20s (featuring Holden Cup premiership success in 2014) and NSW Cup teams and the Māori All Stars, and assistant roles with the Kiwis and Warriors first-grade sides – the latter leading to a position as interim NRL head coach midway through 2022.

 

Made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006 and named at halfback in the Kiwis’ Team of the Century in 2007, post-playing accolades for Jones came in the form of his induction to the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame (2015) and the NRL Hall of Fame (2019).

 

 

 

Clubs: City-Point Chevalier, Auckland City Vulcans, Auckland/New Zealand Warriors, Catalans Dragons

Provinces: Auckland

 

New Zealand Representative:

 

1995  3 Tests at World Cup (England)

1996  2 Tests v Papua New Guinea

1996  3 Tests v Great Britain

1997  2 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1998  3 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1998  3 Tests in Great Britain

1999  1 Test in Australia

1999  1 Test in Tri Nations (NZ)

1999  1 Test v Tonga

2000  1 Test in Australia

2000  5 Tests at World Cup (England)

2001  1 Test v France

2001  1 Test v Australia

2002  1 Test v Australia

2002  1 Test in Wales

2002  3 Tests in Great Britain

2002  1 Test in France

2003  1 Test in Australia

2005  5 Tests in Tri Nations (NZ, Aus & GB)

2005  1 Test in France

2006  1 Test in Great Britain

2006  5 Tests in Tri Nations (NZ & Aus)

 

Total Test Appearances: 46 matches – 16 tries, 47 goals, 2 field goals (160 points)

 

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS

 

Kiwis captain in 7 Tests (2002, 2006)

New Zealand Player of the Year (1999, 2002)

Golden Boot winner (2002)

Halberg Awards NZ Sportsman of the Year finalist (2002)

Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2006)

New Zealand Team of the Century (2007)

New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame (2015)

NRL Hall of Fame (2019)