NRL: New Zealand Warriors owner Rob Croot optimistic about future, despite another challenging year

Warriors chairman Rob Croot admits it has been a horror week – but he is backing the club to rebound on and off the field.

Last Sunday’s disappointing 20-12 defeat to the Sharks, which all but ended their slim playoff hopes, was followed by the cancellation of the highly anticipated homecoming game next month.

Then came the forced relocation to Queensland, which has created massive upheaval for the players, staff and families.

In a year where little has gone right, it seems like the final straw.

“It’s just gutting, for everything they have given up, to have this,” Croot told the Herald. “We’ve got families that have relocated from New Zealand, putting kids in school on the Central Coast. And now, the club’s moving to the Gold Coast.

“And now to be outside of the top eight, with all of the hard work that has gone on and what we were wanting this season. It’s gutting for everyone, what we were working to, what we were hoping.”

The inability to stage the Bulldogs game is particularly costly, both for the balance sheet and other intangible factors.

“We’re a little bit more in the hole,” said Croot. “Selling out Mount Smart is good for us, [so] it’s another financial kicking. It’s not going to destroy us but would have rather had it in the bank.

“And our key sponsors were highly engaged on making it really special event. There was also the emotional thing of welcoming the extended Warriors’ family back to New Zealand and Roger’s last [home] game. It was going to be massive.”

It’s yet another blow. Since the Autex group took on sole ownership of the Warriors in late 2019, the team hasn’t been seen at Mt Smart, while the club has become essentially an offshore entity.

That’s equated to millions in lost revenue and increased costs and hasn’t been an easy road.

“It’s certainly not what we dreamed of,” said Croot, who has been part of some tough boardroom discussions.

“There’s been a number of conversations and the organisation unfortunately is skinny,” said Croot. “It has to be prudent; balancing the financial responsibility but being able to operate effectively. It is as skinny as it can possibly get and Autex is in a position where we can commit to whatever it needs.”

But there has been no thoughts of walking away.

“It’s certainly not comfortable for us,” said Croot. “And it’s not where we want to be. But we know what we’re dealing with. From an Autex position, we’re comfortable that we can commit to that.

“It’s bloody hard on everyone, but at some point it’s going to come right. We believe in the future, we bought into it to be great caretakers for the club. To set it up right and that vision, and our commitment, has not changed.”

According the Croot, the owners are still ready to invest, when they get the chance, to build the development base and pathways that are necessary in this country, as well as creating “a more engaged New Zealand in our club”.

Aside from the off-field challenges, the Warriors have also struggled on the park. After a promising start – with a 4-4 record after a third of the season – they have nosedived dramatically, winning just one of their last eight games.

Injuries have been a factor, but aren’t enough to justify five wins at this stage of the campaign (the worst record since 2004), given the strength of the roster.

It’s a considerably superior squad than Todd Payten had last year – with loan players and all kinds of dramas in 2020 – but the results are worse.

However, Croot believes the team is on the right track.

“We’re not too far away and that’s the wonderful challenge with the game,” said Croot. “As much as we improve every other club improves as well. So it is not just a matter of what you do. Everybody gets better and that is the brilliance of the competition.

“So we know what we want and we are working hard to get there, some of it is timing, some of it is the rugby league gods. We’ve just got to continue on the path that we’ve chosen.”

There’s also confidence in coach Nathan Brown, as the right man at the helm.

“Absolutely – he’s terrific,” said Croot simply.

The Warriors face the Panthers on Sunday, as the club continue to assess the ramifications of the move north.

“It could be worse – at least the competition is continuing,” said Croot. “If we were faced with a halt to the competition, the effect on all of the clubs and all of the players is far more significant.

“It’s just gutting again that most of the effect is on our club. For the teams leaving New South Wales and their home base, their offices can carry on, they can still go and hang out with their sponsors, they’ve still got their reserve grade teams doing community work and all the rest of it. We have got none of that. It is a massive effect on our club compared to some of the other ones.”

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