Having been dogged by the underachievers tag for a good part of its tenure in the NRL, the New Zealand Warriors are desperate to shed this tag in 2017, and all things being equal the Auckland-based side won’t have a better chance to make the playoffs than this year.
The Warriors 2016 season was curtailed almost as soon as it had begun. It’s big off season signing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck lasted barely five games before succumbing to a knee injury.
It lost its first three games and had registered just two wins from the first six games.
However a phenomenal run after the State of Origin period saw the Warriors charge towards the finals. However a late season fadeout and inconsistent play ultimate ended the its season.
Despite showing glimpses of a side that looked unstoppable with damaging forwards and slick backline play led by the irresistible Shaun Johnson, the Warriors failed to make the finals for the fifth consecutive year.
If the Warriors are to have any say in how the finals pan out in 2017, they need to play more consistent rugby league. 2016 was highlighted by some fantastic performances that were followed up by lackluster and disappointing play.
The return of Roger Tuivasa Sheck bolsters its chances as well as the high profile signing of NZ international Kieran Foran (although Foran won’t be available until round 3).
On paper, the spine of Roger Tuivasa Sheck, Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran and Issac Luke should send shudders down the spine of opposition teams and gain the Warriors plenty of wins. However, whether that eventuates remains to be seen.
Why They’ll Win It: As mentioned above the Warriors have an abundant of riches in the backline. For the first time since he has come into First Grade Shaun Johnson will have a supporting cast around him and considering what he has achieved so far in his career, that is scary to think about.
The points this Warriors side can score is enough to warrant why they’ll win the Competition. Adding to this is its mobile forward pack that has power and finesse.
RTS, Foran and Luke all have big match experience (including winning premierships) and this bodes well for the New Zealanders.
Why They Won’t: Inconsistency.
The Warriors have been unable to put consistent quality performances together in the last five years (hence why they haven’t made the finals since 2011).
They lure their fans in with a good side on paper but are unable to cut the mustard when it comes to the crunch.
Their play will need to be better and that comes with a greater focus on consistency, they haven’t been able to do it lately which leaves a clouded future for the Warriors and its 2017 hopes.
Key Players: Shaun Johnson will be as valuable as ever for the Warriors, however the return of Roger Tuivasa Sheck is what has Warriors fans licking their lips in anticipation.
The talented fullback had only five games for the Warriors last year before losing his 2016 season to injury. Having worked his way up to be one of the best fullbacks in the NRL, his impact from the back will be pivotal for the Kiwi’s.
His ability to create run metres from the back and get the Warriors into strong positions at the start of the sets will only enable greater attacking opportunities.
He also has incredible pace (even despite the knee injury) which helps him be in a position to collect the ball when diffusing kicks as well as creating opportunities to get on the outside of opposing defenders when attacking
His contribution will be intriguing to watch in the first six weeks of the season.
However, if the New Zealand backs are to get any opportunities to attack it will be on the back of its forward pack that has some of the most talented forwards around.
Sam Lisone, will have a huge impact for the Warriors after spending most of last season playing from the bench.
Now relied upon to be one of the more experienced forwards at the club, Lisone will be looking to pick up where he left off last season (making metres up the guts of the field and being a rock in the middle of the field). He is highly touted in NZ and his performance particularly defensively could assist the Warriors as it attempts to concede less points in 2017.
Rookie To Watch:
Ata Hingano is widely regarded as the man to eventually partner Shaun Johnson in the halves. He will get first shot in the halves this season as Kieran Foran sits out the opening two games.
He is a player that the club can be built around in future years. Still just 19-years-old, Hingano is blessed with all the talent in the world, and if injuries are to strike the halves they have a ready made replacement to slot right in.
In: Kieran Foran (Eels)
Out: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Shaun Lane (Sea Eagles), Jonathan Wright (Sea Eagles), Henare Wells (Burleigh Bears)
Best Line Up:
1. Roger Tuivasa Sheck
2. David Fusitu’a
4. Solomone Kata
5. Manu Vatuvei
6. Kieran Foran
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Jacob Lillyman
9. Isaac Luke
10. Ben Matulino
11. Ryan Hoffman
12. Bodene Thompson
13. Simon Mannering (C)
14. Bunty Afoa
15. Albert Vete
16. Sam Lisone
17. Charlie Gubb