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Friday, 2 March 2018

NZ Warriors 2018 Season Preview: The Season of Redemption or Ruin?

Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi

It feels like an age since I’ve written about the Warriors but finally the NRL Season is upon us and I cannot wait for Round One.
This time of year also means its time for me to give my thoughts on how the Warriors will fare in their 2018 campaign.
As I did last year, I will be breaking my preview into sections outlining my views on the preseason news and trial results, new signings, the 2018 squad, my game day 17, the team's strengths and weaknesses and then finalising it all with my 2018 prediction.
As always, this is all just my own thoughts and opinions, and they are still up for debate.
I would love to start a discussion on here so if you want to share your thoughts, comment below and let me know what you think.

Preseason News: Changes made as Fan's turn away
2017 left a bitter taste in my mouth, nine losses in a row to finish out the season yet again in the bottom eight.
The fans showed their dissatisfaction with the Warriors with their wallets seeing a substantial drop in memberships (As of posting the Warriors member numbers are increasing).
I too was so disillusioned by the lacklustre performance from the Warriors that I couldn’t even complete a 2017 season review, but those that dwell on the past are doomed to repeat it so let’s focus on 2018.

The Warriors had to go back to the drawing board yet again and make changes to the 2018 season.
One of the most consistent complaints about the Warriors is a lack of fitness, so they brought in renowned trainer Alex Corvo as the new strength and conditioning coach.
They also brought Brian Smith in as the Director of Football to help Stephen Kearney with the day to day actions at the club so Stephen can focus on the actual coaching duties.
The Roster also saw quite a lot of changes with a lot of players moving on as well as many coming in (more on the recruits later on).
Gone are experienced players like Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Ryan Hoffman and Bodene Thompson.
Fan Favorite Charlie Gubb found himself a new home in Canberra, and the Foran experiment can be classed as a failure as he quickly moved to the Bulldogs (In my opinion he mentally never left Sydney).
For me however the most disappointing loss was Toafofoa Sipley, I believe that there is a lot of potential in what Sipley can bring to a side and Manly thought so too snatching him up quickly.

Clearly changes needed to be made and Stephen Kearney (be it his choice or CEO Cameron George's is up for debate) has made them.
I think the best move the Warriors have made is the recruiting of Brian Smith and Alex Corvo.
Smith has so much knowledge and experience that he can provide the club and if he can help shape Kearney into the coach this side needs to succeed, then I am all for it.

With the World Cup ending 2017, there was no Nines this preseason, so the Warriors only had two trials.
The first trial in Rotorua saw a Warriors side without the majority of their top tire players defeat the Melbourne Storm without any players of note (effectively a third-string team) 20-14.
There isn't much to say about this match, the Warriors started slow but never looked to be troubled by the understrength Storm.
If I were to take anything away from this match it would be the combination between Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a, these two gelled together quite well, and I look forward to seeing this combination in the regular season.

Peta Hiku / Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi

The second trial saw a Warriors team with most of their stars back travel to the Sunshine Coast to face the Gold Coast Titans.
The Warriors won this match 20-14 in a good showing for the top sides first game together, the improved fitness showed most notably in a 10-15 minute stretch where the Warriors were stuck defending on their goal line.
The combination between Shaun Johnson and Blake Green looks promising, and the addition of Tohu Harris to the right edge of Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a leaves me excited for the highlight reel we may well get from David in 2018.
The game wasn't perfect, the Warriors had some issues with holding onto the ball and giving away easy penalties, but hopefully, these issues are dealt with before Round One.

In the last week of the preseason, the Warriors announced that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck re-signed with the club for another 4 seasons.
They also issued a statement that they granted Ata Hingano his request to be released as well as announcing the signing of Titans utility Karl Lawton and the upgrades on the contracts of Sam Cook and Hayze Perham.

I was surprised that Roger re-signed for 4 years, I was confident that he would stay, but I expected only a two-year extension.
I'm thrilled that Roger is here to stay for the foreseeable future, he is young, a hell of a talent and is a critical component of this Warriors side and with the contract signed before the season officially starts it means he can just focus on football.

I don't know anything about Karl Lawton other than his ability to play in several conditions, but it adds to the squad depth with Ata leaving and Nataniel Roache's injury.
Sam Cook and Hayze Perham are both very talented youngsters, and their contract upgrades show that the Warriors view them favourably in their future plans and I look forward to seeing what they can contribute in seasons to come.

Lastly, my take on Ata leaving.
In my opinion, he is not ready to be a starting half in the NRL.
If the rumours are correct and he is going to join the Canberra Raiders, I am even more confused as I don't see him getting a start over Blake Austin, Aiden Sezer or even Sam Williams.
Talks of one of those players moving to hooker are doubtful as the Raiders signed former Warrior Siliva Havilli as injury cover.
Learning from an experienced half like Blake Green could have done wonders for Ata, but like a lot of young players now he had no patience and will have to sink or swim.
I wish him all the best and hope it works out for him.

Key Signing: Alex Corvo
Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi


For the first time ever in my season previews my key signing is not a player but the new Strength and Conditioning coach Alex Corvo.
Largely touted as the best head trainer in the NRL the signing of Alex Corvo was a coup for the Warriors.
Looking into his stats, only one club has missed the playoffs in the 15 years he has been in charge at the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos not to forget his work with the Kangaroos and Queensland State of Origin sides.
The training appears to be working, the squad looks in great shape especially Issac Luke who seems to have dropped a lot of his excess weight and gained some of his quickness around the ruck area back.

Alex's tough approach to training is just what the Warriors need, not only to get them in terrific shape but training them to perform while fatigued.
This is the key, in my opinion, too many times the Warriors have surrendered a lead or conceded points in the dying stages of a game when they were gassed.
Performing consistently at a top level for 80 minutes every week is what separates the top teams from the pack and Alex will hopefully make all the difference for the 2018 Season.

2018 Squad
Copyright Photo: www.warriors.kiwi
With the exodus of talent that left at the end of 2017, the Warriors brought in ten new players to increase the depth.
Some of the new recruits (Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and Blake Green) will be slotted straight into the starting line up, while the rest will be competing for spots and that will hopefully bring out the best in the entire squad.
The likes of Solomona Kata may find his form from a few seasons ago now that there are the likes of Peta Hiku, Gerard Beale and Anthony Gelling pushing for spots in the backline.
Overall I think the squad looks good, I praised the potential of the 2017 spine, and I believe that Blake Green is going to contribute a lot more to this side than Foran did while on his New Zealand holiday.
The backline has the potential to score a lot of points, but the forwards really need to pack a punch up front.
Last season's standouts James Gavet and Simon Mannering now have help with the likes of Tohu Harris, Agnatius Paasi and Leivaha Pulu bolstering the pack.
As is usually the case the Warriors need to convert the impressive team on paper into a great team on the field.

My Gameday 17

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck                     14. Jazz Tevaga
2. David Fusitu'a                                15. James Gavet
3. Peta Hiku                                       16. Agnatius Paasi
4. Blake Ayshford                              17. Anthony Gelling
5. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Until Gerard Beale returns from injury)
6. Blake Green
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Adam Blair
9. Issac Luke
10. Sam Lisone
11. Leivaha Pulu
12. Tohu Harris
13. Simon Mannering

Strengths and Weaknesses

The most apparent strength for this side is their back line and spine.
If the Warriors can unleash David Fusitu'a and he can continue his World Cup form, then they will at least be exciting to watch.
Blake Green's addition to the spine is like the final piece of the puzzle; essentially Blake is going to lead this team around the park and let Shaun Johnson loose to do what he does best.
Watching their first outing together it seems that Kearney has given up on the one half on each side of the field and letting them work together in tandem, which is the right way to go.

The weaknesses for this side is their defence and penalties, last year their left edge was a turnstile and an embarrassment, but if they move Blake Ayshford into Solomona Kata's position, this could improve this dramatically.
One thing I noticed in the Titans trial match was the silly penalties the Warriors gave away, if the Warriors continue to give the opposition easy metres then it is going to be a long season.


My 2018 Prediction


My prediction last year was way off when I picked the Warriors to finish the regular season 6th.
A lot of the NRL pundits in Australia have already written the Warriors off with some even picking the Warriors to get their first-ever Wooden Spoon this season.
I think these picks are off and I'm picking the Warriors to finally return to the playoffs and finish the regular season 7th.

So let's bring on the new season, I cannot wait for Round one as it has been far too long.
I will once again be writing game reviews every week throughout the season, and I'm looking forward to talking to all of you throughout the year.
If you like what I'm doing here, please share my blog around with your friends and leave comments telling me how you think the season is going.
As I did last year, I will end with some questions so let me know your answers, and I will talk to you again soon.

What are your thoughts on the release of Ata Hingano?
Where do you think the Warriors will finish the 2018 season?
What changes would you make to my gameday 17?
Who is your key signing?

7 comments:

  1. Good read mate.
    Let ata go! His heads to big to understand what he could of learnt from the likes of sj and green who are both world class halfs.he had a couple of ok games and has one good game against the kiwis in the world cup then thinks hes golden boot! Its a shame just the same as tui too.to young and dumb,but is that the clubs doing? Letting him go??
    Im picking they will finish 8th.and mabey hit the semies?
    I love all the sigings far better than last year i agree what said about foran.i like the guy hes a good player hope he finds from at the dogs but hes not a warrior.

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    1. Thanks, yes it seems to be an issue with a few of the young guys at a lot of clubs now days, none seem to want to learn and pay their dues.
      8th not a bad pick, yeah I'm a fan of the signings so far and think it was best for Foran to move on.

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  2. I enjoyed reading that mate.
    In my opinion the weakness lies with Kata and Maumalo.
    would love to see stats on line breaks and tackles missed when those 2 are on the field at the same time. Also in my opinion they lack the drive and desire that the warriors are so desperately needing.
    Would love to see Blake and CNK take there places.
    With that, I have a sense we might go good this season.
    Greg.

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    1. Thank you, yes I think there are better options for the left edge but I feel that Kearney will stick with them in round one, maybe the new talent will push then to improve, if they don't at least the have the players to replace them with.

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  3. i think our boys will go a bit further this season with heaps of new exciting players cant wait for the first game with an excellent fitness and condition mentor they may just make it to the top four if not win that elusive nrl cup and break tradition by bringing it here to new zealand what a coup that would be we have been in the finals and nearly made it only to go down to manly by 6 im sure steven kearny proved that we can win by producing a guttsy effort in taking the four nations plus the world league cup off australia the only nation to do it to all the warriors fans out there this is our year as our prime minister jacinda says we got this lets do this go the warriors

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  4. Good read bro keep writing :)

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  5. The only way is up for the Warriors and NZ rugbyleague in general, up from the canvas where they have been laid out for many years now. Almost lifeless with little or no resistance. Some advice to young kiwi fellas aspiring to play in the NRL...get your passport and fly across to the fortress(aust)to do your apprenticeship. There is an illness currently embedded in the psyche of Nz Rugbyleague its called an inferior complex. I believe untill this is addressed then the same results will continue. Im not sure what systems are in place at the grassroots in Nz especially around young Moari/Polynesian players developing mental fortitude...and preparation for life in a professional sporting arena? Past seasons have highlighted huge deficiencies in this area at both the Warriors and National levels. Im a staunch Abs and Warriors supporter..Ive been on this rollercoaster for a long time. Hoping to see Warriors win premiership 2018.

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