Recruitment Of James Fisher-Harris

If you want a sign of the progression of the Warriors as an NRL franchise, it came with the recruitment of James Fisher-Harris in late April.

While the performances have been patchy this season – compared to the 2023 benchmark – the club continues to make all the right moves off the field.

There is a long term approach to things that we haven’t seen for years. There has been a massive investment in development, with three junior teams fielded this year (Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21) for the first time.

The club is also expanding its academy approach. Along with the Auckland base, they now have programs in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and the Waikato, building more connections and pathways with emerging talent.

Perhaps more importantly, they are getting their recruitment recipe right. It wasn’t so long ago that it seemed a bit of a mess, a fruit salad of signings without a coherent plan. The best example was the swoop for Wigan star Sam Tomkins in 2013, then regarded as the hottest player in the English Super League. Touted as someone who could transform the club, he came at huge expense. But it made no sense. The club already had a good fullback but were desperately under powered up front, while Tomkins was unproven in Australasia. He wasn’t a complete flop but never really settled and had a moderate impact.

Tomkins was replaced by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – which was great business – but there wasn’t sufficient investment in the pack, or the spine, which meant the club never made the most of his game breaking ability.

Between 2012 and 2022 there were all kinds of signings but hits were dwarfed by misses. It didn’t help that the club burned through six head coaches across that period, each bringing his own ideas. Now there is stability; Andrew Webster is here for the long haul, with a great back room around him. Everyone can see the club is going places.

That’s why Fisher-Harris penned a four year deal. Sure, he wanted to come home with his family here, but the 28-year-old remains ambitious. It will be special to live in New Zealand for the first time in a decade but the Kiwis captain is also coming to win.

And that is the biggest change.

In the past the Warriors wouldn’t have been able to start conversations with players of his pedigree, a three time premiership winner, as agents would direct such clients elsewhere. But not anymore.

And make no mistake, Fisher-Harris is a special one. I first met him in 2016, when he came to Christchurch to play the Warriors. He was painfully shy and said very little, though highly rated. He remains a man of few words but carries great mana for club and country, a forward leader almost without peer. He is always chasing improvement – ‘sharpening the sword’, as he likes to say – and has a great capacity to learn, along with an immense work ethic. And few can match his drive. One of my favourite Fisher-Harris stories came at the end of the 2021 NRL season. He was home for a brief break in the Far North, after an intense campaign, which had started with an All Stars match in
February and ended with a grand final triumph in October.

But he wasn’t just putting his feet up, instead doing daily hill runs on the long, steep driveway at the family property at Kohukohu, just to keep things “ticking over”. That’s the kind of approach that wins, that inspires and that leads and is something to look forward to come 2025 with the Warriors.

Michael Burgess
Sports Writer