In his continuing series of NRL club season reviews, Daniel Nichols looks at the New Zealand Warriors.
Fan Prediction: 5th-8th
What Went Wrong: 2013 was a Jekyll and Hyde year for the New Zealand Warriors. The Warriors lost their first three games, including an embarrassing 40-10 loss to eventual wooden spooners The Eels yet were able to put 5 wins together in the middle of the season to put themselves back into finals contention. Wins over the Roosters, Eagles and Storm were countered by losses to the Raiders, the Dragons and the Eels. An astounding stat saw the Warriors fail to make the 8 at any point in the season, which really highlights just how badly the Warriors started the season.
The Warriors lost 8 games by 10 points or less, a stat that would give fans hope for 2014 but would also frustrate the coaching staff. The Warriors ability to lose a game they were in a position to win is a habit they will look to lose in the future. The Jekyll and Hyde aspects of their game did not only appear from game to game, but from the first half to the second. Matthew Elliott has noticeably more grey hair than he started the season with after seeing his side produce halves of amazing football, only to concede easy points and undo all of their good work in the second half.
No one player sums up the inconsistent nature of the Warriors 2013 than Feleti Mateo. At his best Mateo looked like a certainty for a bench spot in the NSW Origin side, but at his worst Mateo looked lucky to play off the bench in the Warrior’s reserve grade side. Mateo, one of the most destructive ball runners in the game needs to find the consistency that made him a star at the Eels. Mateo was only able to contribute 5 try assists and 3 line breaks in 2013. Star signing Dane Nielsen failed to live up to the hype his signing brought with it. 2 tries in 17 games for a player of Neilsen’s talent is not up to scratch and he will want to produce a far more productive season in 2014
What Went Right: Shaun Johnson gave fans of the national side great cause for excitement leading in to this year’s World Cup with his performances for the Warriors. 19 try assists from 24 games along with 10 tries is a great return for a halfback playing in a team that only recorded 11 wins this season. Johnson’s kicking game will be absolutely key for the national side as it was for the entire 2013. Johnson’s partnership with the returning Thomas Leuluai was a rare highlight for the Warriors who did well to cover for the loss of NSW pivot James Maloney.
As mentioned previously, when the Warriors were good, they were GREAT. When the Warriors are fully firing, there aren’t many sides who can match them for size, power and ability. Unfortunately the Warriors were unable to find that level too often in 2013. They did however beat competition heavyweights Manly and Melbourne and even beat the eventual premiers the Roosters at Allianz Stadium. Hurrell and Vatuvei are two of the most feared outside backs in the competition and if Dane Nielson can fire in 2014, they will have one of the best backlines in the game. Vatuvei, unfortunately, still has a mistake or two in his game but is finally finding a level of consistency needed to truly rank amongst the game’s elite
Simon Mannering had yet another strong year for the Warriors averaging a massive 33 tackles per game. The Warriors forward pack is still one of the most feared in the competition and Mannering is the main man in the pack. Sam Rapira, Todd Lowrie, youngster Suaia Matagi and Jacob Lillyman all made plenty of tackles and metres whilst Mateo, when on his game, provided the creativity for the pack. The Warriors under 20s side again had a fantastic season, falling just short in the grand final. They have NRL ready talent coming through in big numbers and have proven they have no trouble finding the line. The Warriors have also featured heavily in this year’s player market signing Sharks Jason Bakuya and Chad Townsend, as well as the jewel in their recruitment crown, England superstar Sam Tomkins. Tomkins brings with him a massive reputation and a big fan base, which means plenty of eyes and attention on the Warriors in 2014. Competition for places in the first grade side next season will be fierce and that can only benefit the club.
Verdict: 2 years after making the grand final the Warriors would have expected to be in the top 8 this season after last year’s come down year. A side featuring the talent of Johnson, Mannering, Vatuvei, Hurrell and co. should not be losing 6 of their first 7 matches. A late rally was not enough to earn a spot in the finals. With the signings of Tomkins and Bakuya especially the Warriors will be better placed in 2014 to make an impact in the finals, but with the big names comes expectation. They will obviously want to start better than they did this year, or a few players, and members of the coaching staff will be looking over their shoulder. Tomkins is a genuine star, his ability to adapt to the NRL will go a huge way to determining just how successful the Warriors are in 2014.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com