Warriors fans will need no reminding that their side finished on a nine-game losing streak to end 2017. They finished 13th, equal on points with the Tigers and Titans, only four points above the last-placed Knights.
Simply put, 2017’s stats are not pretty reading for fans across the Tasman. They conceded 575 points, better only than the Titans and Knights, while only scoring 444, better only than the Knights, Tigers and Dogs.
The Warriors have been active in the player market in trying to shake things up. They’ve undertaken one of the larger recruitment drives across the competition which should see a largely different side enter the 2018 season.
Given the way their 2017 limped to completion that can only be a good thing.
Recruitment Grading: B+
The Warriors have recruited very well, although they have lost some star power also. Blake Green’s arrival is a potential game changer. His calmness, experience and ability to just go about his game should finally relieve the pressure on Shaun Johnston. New Zealand captain Adam Blair returns home and should add some much-needed experience up front. He is joined by other Kiwi internationals Gerard Beale, Peta Hiku and Tohu Harris. Unfortunately, they did lose Foran, Hoffman, Matulino and Lillyman, but they have covered those losses pretty well. As controversial as this will sound, I actually believe Green is an upgrade on Foran in terms of the Warriors set up. Foran was brilliant but erratic whereas Green, although less likely to bust a game wide open, is more consistent.
Star Player: Shaun Johnson
Although Green’s arrival will lighten the workload, Johnson is still the main man in Auckland. When is the last time we didn’t say the very same thing during a pre-season? The Warriors were well within the conversation for finals footy before Johnson went down with an injury late in 2017. Although it certainly wasn’t the only reason they missed the eight, it took away their biggest attacking threat and blunted their attack in a huge way. He scored four tries and laid on 18 try assists in just 18 games last season, as well as making 10 line-breaks and kicking 45 goals. I believe Johnson will be even more dangerous in 2018 with the addition of Green. He seems to improve those around him by taking care of the little things allowing the likes of DCE and now Johnson to inject their brilliance when an opportunity provides itself.
NRL 2018 Wooden Spooners?
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 15, 2018
Strength: Two of the game’s most talented players
If you’re building a side from scratch, you could do far worse than starting with the names Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Johnson. The Kiwi aces combine to form half of one of the game’s most destructive spines. RTS ran for almost 180 metres per game last year, providing the spark to start the sets that made him a star during his time at the Roosters. Nine tries and 15 try assist are fair numbers in a struggling side but he is capable of much more. A fully fit and firing Johnson is arguably the most important player to his team’s fortunes in the NRL. If both players fire they can create havoc for any side, on any day.
Weakness: Over-reliance on RTS and Johnson
You take any halfback out of any side and they will struggle, but no one player has the weight of their club, and nation, on their shoulders quite like Shaun Johnson. As good as the likes of Luke, Green and co are, if Johnson does not play well, the Warriors lose their main route of attack. Backs such as Kata and Fusitu’a should provide more support this season, but I’m very worried that if Johnson is injured or suffers a drop in form, that the tries will dry up in Auckland. RTS is the other freakish player in this side. He can bust open a defensive line from anywhere. His carries back from kicks are instrumental in putting the Warriors on the front foot in 2018. Opposition teams know this and will plan accordingly.
This Warriors side has no shortage of talent. It contains a host of internationals and plenty of experience. That said, Issac Luke’s form has suffered to the point he is no longer the go-to Kiwi number nine option, and you could argue he’s not even the Warriors best option right now.
David Fusitu’a and Solomone Kata had brilliant World Cup campaigns with The Fus, especially, setting the competition alight.
Unfortunately outside the big few in Johnson, RTS and the workhorse Simon Mannering, the squad just doesn’t look like it will be able to match it with the better sides.
Harris and Paasi are clever ins but neither is built in the mould of game-busting back rowers. Beale and Blair are international players with plenty of games under their belts but neither had their respective sides moving the world to re-sign them.
Outside of Johnson and RTS I just can’t see too many tries in this side. They’ll have to lift massively in defence if they want to challenge for the eight in 2018 as a result. Given that only the Titans and Knights conceded more points in 2017, I’m not exactly brimming with confidence.
Stephen Kearney has a monster job ahead of him. He has a side that can leave egg on the face of doubters, but it will be an uphill battle.