Warriors NYC coach praises Pitama’s input
After a luckless first season in Auckland, Northern Bulldogs product Sheldon Pitama is starring for the Warriors’ NYC side, captaining a new-look squad as the perennial heavyweights cope with a higher-than-usual turnover.
The Warriors won Under-20s premierships in 2010-11 and ’14, but the graduation of several stars to NSW Cup and first-grade level – along with the likes of Brad Abbey, who was snapped up by NRL powerhouses Canterbury Bulldogs – has left Pitama as one of the few 2016 players with significant NYC experience.
Pitama, whose father Mathias was part of the Kaiapoi Bulldogs’ 2007 premiership-winning team, was scouted by Melbourne Storm in 2013, the year he represented NZ Residents 18s.He headed to the Victorian capital after completing high school and playing SG Ball and NYC football for the club in 2014.
Lured home by the Warriors, the tyro’s 2015 season was wiped out by injury – restricted to just seven appearances – but NYC coach Kelvin Wright emphasised Pitama’s importance to his team this season.
“Even though he hasn’t played that many games because of the broken leg last year, Sheldon’s an experienced footballer,” Wright said.
“He’s been in the systems with ourselves and Melbourne for a few years, so he’s certainly leading the way.”
Among the few South Islanders to secure an Under-20s contract with the Warriors since the competition’s inception in 2008, Pitama has developed into a strong personality within the squad, Wright explained.
“Oh mate, he’s been fantastic. Obviously he spent the whole year with us last year as well, but he was out injured.”
Pitama’s natural leadership qualities aside, his versatility has been a major asset to the Warriors.
The 20-year-old, who was born in Christchurch and grew up in Tuahiwi, has been a dummy-half throughout his young career – but was pitched into the halves for the first time against the Storm in Round 3, steering his team to a vital win from the unfamiliar role.
“Sheldon did a great job for us out there today,” Wright said after the Warriors’ first win of the season.
“He’s been a hooker his whole life and today he played the whole game at halfback. I’m really impressed with him.”
The Warriors have started the NYC season 1-3, but like the club’s first grade side, they are notorious slow starters. When their fresh combinations start to gel, expect them to figure in the finals for the ninth straight season – with Pitama, confidence restored after a successful injury comeback, at the helm and playing a key role in the No.9 or 7 jumper.