Former All Blacks Sevens star William Warbrick has surely moved a step closer to his NRL first-grade debut for Melbourne Storm, after a powerhouse pre-season display against NZ Warriors at Christchurch.
Seemingly decimated by off-season departures, the Storm have showed the depth of their player ranks, running in four tries to overwhelm the Warriors 24-6 in their final hitout before the competition beings in two weeks.
Warbrick was among the scorers for Melbourne, producing a display that showed he was ready to step up to the next level in his code switch.
With the scores locked at 6-6, the winger took a long pass from Kiwi half Jahrome Huges and ran 40 metres down the right touchline, swerving and bumping off four would-be tacklers en route to the tryline.
He proved a handful for markers every time he received the ball, showing Storm supercoach Craig Bellamy he was ready for a fulltime call-up.
Born in Kawerau, he played junior rugby league for Ngongataha Chiefs and represented New Zealand in Aussie rules, before winning an NZ sevens contract in 2019. Warbrick won an Olympic silver medal with the All Blacks Sevens at Tokyo 2020 and signed a two-year contract with Melbourne Storm soon after.
He spent his first season playing second-tier Queensland Cup for Sunshine Coast Falcons, scoring 10 tries in 14 appearances. Last week, he also scored for the Storm in a 32-24 pre-season loss to Sydney Roosters.
Warbrick wasn’t the only Kiwi to hurt the Warriors in their preparation for the new season. Former Warriors forward Eliesa Katoa – who signed with Melbourne during a 2022 campaign when he fell out of favour with then-Warriors coach Nathan Brown – and NZ Kiwis enforcer Nelson Asofa-Solomona – rumoured to be considering a code switch to play for the Wallabies – also found the tryline.
The Warriors named a near full-strength starting line-up and were very competitive through the opening half, taking a 6-0 halftime lead through a try from winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Newly signed second-rower Marata Niukore smashed former Warriors forward Aaron Pene with a tackle that dislodged the ball and Watene-Zelezniak ran the channel close to the midfield scrum, dashing 60 metres relatively unmolested to score.
As new coach Andrew Webster brought on his reserves, replacing his first-choice spine of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Ronald Volkman, Shaun Johnson and Wayde Egan, the Warriors fell away, leaving themselves plenty to work on over the next fortnight.
“We just couldn’t build any pressure really,” said captain Tohu Harris. “They did a good job of fixing the errors they had in the first half and we just continued to make unforced errors.
“That told by the end of the game, just fatigue levels. You can’t keep defending your line, when you keep making those errors.”
The Warriors open their 2023 NRL campaign against Newcastle Knights on March 3.
Melbourne Storm 24 (Katoa, Warbrick, Asofa-Solomona & Coates tries; Meaney 2 & Pezet 2 conversions) NZ Warriors 6 (Watene Zelezniak try; Johnson conversion)
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