Departing Warriors boss Jim Doyle has hailed former owner Eric Watson as a saviour of rugby league in New Zealand.
Executive chairman Doyle and Watson both ended their association with the NRL club when it changed hands on Wednesday, purchased by the Carlaw Heritage Trust and Autex Industries Limited.
While English-based Kiwi businessman Watson attracted criticism during 17 years of ownership, Doyle said his purchase in 2000 was a pivotal moment.
The under-performing club, owned then by a consortium headed by the Tainui tribe, had hit the financial skids.
Watson acquired key assets, rebranded the club and they reached the play-offs for the first time in 2001. A year later it was the grand final.
"I remember Eric buying it when it was in a really, really bad state," Doyle said.
"There was a good chance the NRL would have taken the licence to Perth or Brisbane or somewhere like that.
"Without Eric, I don't think there'd be a club in New Zealand."
Doyle says Watson's risk ensured the NRL remained front and centre for Kiwi league fans.
That, in turn, provided a viable alternative in a country where rugby union holds sway.
"Without a doubt, Eric saved rugby league in this country."
Doyle leaves the Warriors after three years, firstly as chief executive.
The former NZ Rugby League CEO and NRL chief operating officer, he says his greatest achievement was keeping Mt Smart Stadium as the Warriors home ground at a time when local government officials wanted a shift.
Doyle says the new owners will take charge of a club which has become financially sustainable and is turning around its on-field results.
The 56-year-old plans to enter semi-retirement, acting as a consultant for business and sports organisations.