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Saturday, 29 September 2018

NZ Warriors 2018 Season Review: A Welcomed step in the right Direction

Copyright Photo: Photosport
With the 2018 NRL Grand Final so close I decided it was the perfect time to comb through the Warriors 2018 and conduct my season review.
After seven years of disappointment, the Warriors gave fans more to smile about in 2018, and the Warriors have made a step in the right direction, but there is still lots of work on for the club as they prepare for 2019.
2018 was filled to the brim with talking points, so let's just get into the review.

My take on 2018

It is safe to say my morale took a hit at the end of 2017, I couldn't even put together a season review last year.
This tempered my confidence for the 2018 season, but the signings of Blake Green, Alex Corvo and Brian Smith did have me predict the Warriors to finish 7th (oh so close to a correct prediction).

Looking back at my season preview I highlighted the Warriors biggest weaknesses was their defence and conceding penalties.
The penalties were still an issue, but the defence was improved tenfold (more on that below), but there is still lots of room for improvement.

The Warriors started the season strong going 5-0 and looking like genuine title contenders until the Warriors of old made an appearance in a 50-10 disaster in Melbourne on Anzac day.
In this game the Storm showed the NRL the quickest way to dismantle the Warriors was by pushing the forward pack around, going over the season results all the Warriors most significant losses were also the matches that the forwards went missing.
This is an Attitude thing though as there were many games where the forwards had great performances so I'm confident that this will be addressed in the offseason and the recruitment of Leeson Ah Mau will undoubtedly add some much-needed starch to the pack.

It was good to see the Warriors left the 2017 gameplan back in 2017 and return with more attacking intent in 2018.
Changing that style unleashed the Warriors backline more specifically their back three, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had an unbelievable season and thoroughly deserved the Dally M medal.
David Fusitu'a continued his world cup form and dominated the try scoring stats for the majority of the year, but my biggest surprise was the improvement in Ken Maumalo's game.
Big Ken always frustrated me, you could see what he was capable of in previous seasons.
Ken just could never sort his hands out but in 2017 but this season that all seemed to be in the past as he bulldozed his way into the hearts of all the fans with his strong runs out of the Warriors own half.
If he had a centre that liked to pass to him, he might have even added a few more tries to his tally.
This back three is arguably one of the best in the NRL, and I look forward to watching them develop even further next season.
Heading into 2019 the backline is set with there only being one change I would make (more on that below in my players to improve section).

The Warriors were a lot more consistent this season and thankfully never went on any long losing streaks like they had done in the past.
Getting wins across the ditch helped their campaign, and this needs to continue next season as well as improving their home performances, with the club reducing season ticket prices the odds are that the crowds are going to bigger for them so they will need to get those results if they want to keep the crowds rolling in.

The way the season ended in round one of the playoffs was disappointing and took the shine of the improved 2018, it had been seven years since they Warriors reached the playoffs and there was enough in the performances to show that it wasn't a one-off.
This season was the closest it has been in years with only two points separating the eight placed Warriors from the minor premier Roosters.
2018 was the starting point, Kearney has the players he wants, the Warriors have provided him with the staff he needs, and they will need to build on this season and be prepared for a hard road in 2019 as teams will not take them lightly in the early stages of the season like they did this year.

The Warriors farewelled Simon Mannering this year and hope that after some much deserved time off Simon returns to the club in some form as his experience and dedication would be a welcome resource.
Simon is one of the most respected players in the game and the young players coming through the grades at the Warriors could not find a better mentor.
Thank you for everything you have done for the club Simon, you are the standard that all Warriors players should look to, good luck with retirement.

My Positives for 2018

There were lots to praise in 2018, but I have narrowed it down to my top three.

Goal Line Defence

The most significant improvement in 2018 was the goal line defence by far, in 2017 if the opposition got into the Warriors 10 it was only a matter of time before the Warriors were huddled under the goalposts.
With their improved fitness and attitude in 2018, the Warriors made teams really fight for any points scored in the red zone.
Their confidence in their goal line defence allowed them to take short dropouts and while it didn't always work, they were still able to keep teams out repeatably.
The most prominent example is that playoff game against the Panthers, the Warriors spent 10-15 minutes defending on their goal line as their short drops outs weren't working, but the Panthers could not break through.
It all comes down to their attitude and desire, you could make a highlight reel of all the massive try saving stops from Roger this season, and that effort was matched by the majority of this side, please may it continue in 2019.
If the Warriors can improve their defence for the other 90 metres of the field, then they will be a force in 2019.

Improved Fitness

This could have arguably been number 1 as I think without the high fitness level the goal line defence would not have been at the level it was.
Thank you, Alex Corvo, for coming to the club bringing the Warriors up to the fitness level required to play 80 minutes, gone are the days where the Warriors died out in the final 20 minutes.
Fitness is the key in all sports, you cannot perform at your best when you are hunched over gasping for air.
The players have also got to be commended as they showed the desire to reach the level that Alex expected of them and I imagine how you react to those expectations dictates whether you are a first grader at the Warriors or looking elsewhere for employment.
The Warriors have had a season under Alex now and know what to expect when they arrive for preseason and should only grow in year two under his tutelage, and I look forward to seeing the results.

The Recruits

2018 saw lots of changes at the club, with the massive exodus of players in 2017 the Warriors welcomed several players that were key to their performance this season.
There wasn't a poor recruit in the batch in my opinion, and I think they all helped the Warriors improve in some way.
Tohu Harris, Blake Green and Adam Blair all brought experience and direction to the Warriors and will be critical players once again in 2019.
Leivaha Pulu and Agnatius Paasi brought much-needed firepower to the forward pack with Paasi being my forward of the year by a landslide.
Peta Hiku was a discussion point for the fan base (and more on him below), but his combination with Johnson, Harris and Fusitu'a was lethal if only his defence matched his attack.
Gerard Beale did not get to make an impact early on due to his injury from the World Cup but when given his chance he showed the class he provides, he is the change I would make in the backline for 2019 with him taking over from Kata in the centres.
Anthony Gelling and Karl Lawton were not used in a large capacity, but both had moments to shine during the season.
The quality of all these recruits has meant there hasn't been a lot of signings going into 2019 and the Warriors having a settled side with familiar combinations will give them a much-needed edge.

My Negatives for 2018

2018 wasn't all sunshine and rainbows though which brings me to my 3 biggest negatives.

Bullying of the Pack

This was the biggest concern for me all year and whenever the opposition walked all over the Warriors forward pack the Warriors were on their way to a comprehensive defeat.
It wasn't the skill of the players as this pack put on dominating performances throughout the season they just need to do it at a consistent level.
It's not an easy job but the pack needs to be on top every week if the Warriors want to win the premiership, they have the backline to do it the forwards just need to do their part.
Ah Mau will help, and I see him and Paasi starting with James Gavet and Bunty Afoa being the two other key players in the forward rotation, I think Tohu, Pulu and Blair with form the second and back row with Interchange player of the year Jazz Tevaga adding from the interchange once again.

Anzac day loss

50-10, I don't know why but the Warriors never seem to perform on Anzac day, playing Melbourne is always going to be a tough task, but after such an excellent start to the season, I did not see a 40 point defeat on the cards.
It started a trend in 2018 where the Warriors seemed to struggle in games that began with long presentations, this needs to address in the preseason as they need to improve this if the Warriors make the Grand Final they will need to be able to perform after all the hoopla that precedes that match.
I guess it all comes down to their preparation and attitude and on the positive side of things, it is something that can be worked on.

Titans and Bulldogs losses

The round 20 and 23 losses to the Titans and Bulldogs, man oh man this is a sure-fire what if scenario.
The Warriors should have won these matched, and if they had, you could argue that they could have secured the Minor Premiership for only the second time in their history.
Im not sure what happened but I put it down to attitude, I think that they may have already thought they had these games won before they even started playing.
In fairness, I thought that these games were going to be easy wins myself but in the NRL you can not take any team lightly, and this is another problem I hope they address and fix in the offseason.

My Top Three Warriors for the season

Many players put their hands up this season, but I have narrowed it down to three.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Copyright Photo: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that Roger gets top billing here.
The 2018 Dally M winner had a fantastic season and took strides in growing as a Captain.
I don't think a single player has won as many Warriors of the game from me in my years writing about this club, but he was head and shoulders above the rest of the team week in and week out.
His contribution on attack was vital for the Warriors, but it was his defence that stood out for me, countless times this season he made try-saving tackles that helped stop oppositions turning the tide on this side.
Being the first Warrior to win the Dally M is a nice bit of history for Roger to claim and it will help with the Warrior recruitment on the future as it shows the players across the ditch that you can come here and still get your performance rewarded.
I look forward to Roger adding to his historical firsts as the first Warriors captain to lead this club to a premiership.

Issac Luke

What a year for Issac, after being unfit and overweight in his first few years with the Warriors Issac came into 2018 in terrific shape and it showed in his performance.
Throughout 2018 I referred to Issac as the glue, and I genuinely believe he was, when Issac was out there he was the difference, his sniping dummy half runs open up so many opportunities for the back line to strike and the team lost a step when he wasn't playing.
I hope that Issac is still around in 2019 and it appears that he is close to agreeing to a deal with the club.
A fit Issac still has plenty left in the tank, and I could think of no better mentor for the young hookers in the club to learn from.

David Fusitu'a

23 tries in 22 matches, NRL's top try scorer David Fusitu'a is among the best finishers in the game and shows no signs of slowing down.
David has grown so much in such a short time will be a crucial contributor for the Warriors for years to come.
His ability to score those diving tries with no room in the corner is breathtaking, and it's hard to believe a player of his size can do the things he can, but I look forward to watching him continue to develop.
That Warriors right edge is deadly, and I expect lots of points out of them in 2019.

My Three Warriors who need to Improve

There wasn't as many to pick from as in previous seasons, but I have three Warriors who have work to do.

Solomona Kata
Copyright Photo: Stuff

Kata is the only change I would make to this side if I were in charge, coming into 2018 I didn't have him in my 17, and I stick with that opinion.
This year was a highlight reel for Kata putting himself before the team with countless examples of ignoring overlaps and running out of dummy half on the fifth tackle.
I would love to say that Kata can learn and be a team player but he has been quoted as saying that he will always back himself and run himself.
I commend his confidence, but I would rather see him give the ball to someone in a better scoring position than dying with the ball.
Kata also still rushes out of the defence line and places extra pressure on Ken Maumalo defensively.
Solomona has a lot to work on in the offseason I just don't think he has it in him.
He saved his worst performance for the playoff match against the Panthers and showed he is not first grade level in my eyes.
I would have Beale come into the side in his place for 2019 which would solve that problem.

Sam Lisone

Sam is at a crossroads in his career with the Warriors, 2018 was the year for Sam to cement his spot as one of the Warriors go to props, but he let himself down with silly errors and ill-discipline.
He still has a lot of potential, but with the rest of the props in the squad performing at a higher level, I don't see him getting another crack anytime soon, and he may well be the next player we see moving on.
I hope that isn't the case but time will tell.

Peta Hiku

Lastly is Peta Hiku or should I say Peta Hiku on defence.
Peta was a key contributor on attack for the Warriors, but his defence was the worst of any player in the side by a landslide.
Playing at the Panthers his defence was never as poor as it was this season and maybe it is down to coming back from Super League Im not sure, but I expect a better effort from him next season.
I still rate Peta and would have him on the right edge in 2019 he just needs to work on that defence.

In Summary

2018 was a good starting point for the club to build on.
Going from only seven wins in 2017 to fifteen this season shows that this side is a better place now.
The building blocks are in place, and the team can go on to bigger and greater things in 2019.
The club is doing all the right things from an office standpoint, and with the decreased season ticket prices for 2019, I expect a more significant uptake in memberships (If your able to go grab a season ticket and get to as many games as you can next year).

This year was a standout for me in regards to my reviews too with so many of you reading and offering your thoughts every week, and I cannot thank you enough.
I got to meet so many Warriors fans this year that read my blogs and its great to be able to meet up at the games and events and talk about this team that we love and follow, and I hope to meet more of you in 2019.

A big thanks need to go to the other fans I have met that write or speak about this club, the View from the East Stand crew for bringing me on the Podcast several times this season, hopefully, that is something that continues in the future.
Charlie and the New Zealand Warriors Diehards and the Faithers crew for always sharing my reviews every week and all the other Warriors facebook pages that allow me to share my work on their pages.

Im exciting for 2019 will bring, and I look forward to talking to you all again soon, Im not sure how much Warriors writing will happen until my preseason review next year but I will be posting reviews on the upcoming Kiwis games for the first time which I'm looking forward to.

So that was my take on 2018, and as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What are your thoughts on the 2018 Season?
Who was your Player of the year?
Which Player was your biggest disappointment?
How do you see the 2019 season going?


  1. Maisie Eridge Martin Walker29 September 2018 at 14:07

    Very good season, 2 games short of a great season, 4 short of superb.
    Can't go past RTS, best in the Warriors, best in the NRL.
    Sam Lisone, I wanted, and expected more from him. I thought he would deliver this year.
    Kata a close second, for not learning to position, then feed, his winger. Again, I hoped he would develop that part of his game.
    As the 2 pt difference between 1st, and 8th shows, we are very close to the top teams in the NRL. Given a break or two from the refs, and a pass or two from Kata,we would have had a second chance at the finals. The Warriors will learn from this year, and I see some home finals, and a longer season in 2019.
    Thanks for your game reviews.

    1. Thank you.
      RTS head and shoulders above the rest of the team right now.
      Yeah I thought Sam would deliver this year too, hopefully we see what we expected in 2019 instead.
      I'm at a crossroad with Kata, I think he needs to go but I have a feeling he will be starting in the centres again next season so hopefully he learns to be a team player in the off-season.

      2018 was so tight and there are so many what if's that could have placed the Warriors in a better position on the ladder but whats done is done and I agree that they will learn from this and have a better season in 2019.
      Thank you your feedback and I can't wait to do it all again in 2019.