The New Zealand Warriors have had a bad start to the season.

There is really no getting around that as a fact. Andrew Webster's side, who made a preliminary final last year, have played nothing like the side who were putting away most opposition at the end of 2023.

So when it came to playing the Penrith Panthers in Magic Round - even though the men from the foot of the mountain didn't have Nathan Cleary at their disposal - it was always likely to be a bridge too far for a Warriors' side missing half a team worth of talent.

But that forced Webster to make changes. To have the Warriors Built Different.

The biggest of those changes was the move of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad into the front line, where he wore the number six jumper.

It took time, and wasn't always pretty, but eventually he worked it out and the Warriors put on a brick-wall-style performance to get one over the three-time defending premiers in a game that frustrated Ivan Cleary to the point he virtually shut down his press conference post-game, by offering an average of just over 8 eight words per question asked.

In that press conference, Cleary was asked if the Warriors simply “wanted it more”.

Cleary all but refused to answer, and- as true as the statement might have been - it wasn't just will that got the Warriors over the line.

It was a far improved attacking display - particularly during the second half - from the Warriors, as they found a way to put points on a defensive line of Penrith, that for many sides, is close to unbreakable.

As mentioned, the biggest issue for the Warriors heading into the game was a sheer lack of halves. Chanel Harris-Tavita, Shaun Johnson, and Luke Metcalf were all injured.

That forced Te Maire Martin - who did a good job - into the number seven, while Nicoll-Klokstad played the five-eighth role for the first time at NRL level.

There were growing pains, but he was strong enough to help his side over the line.

It is no secret Nicoll-Klokstad has turned himself into one of the game's best fullbacks over the past 12 months at the Warriors.

The potential was always there for the number one. He had it at the Raiders back in 2019 when the side made the grand final, and he was among the best players throughout that campaign.

But injuries and a lack of form over the disastrous COVID period hit his reputation for six, and his chances in the top grade all but vanished during the back-end of his time in the Nation's capital.

But a move back to Auckland was always going to provide a chance to turn things around for Nicoll-Klokstad, and that's exactly what happened last year, as he became one of the Warriors' most important players, both in the skill department, and the effort one.

At one point, captain Tohu Harris said he actually had to remind Nicoll-Klokstad he wasn't the only one who could run the ball - or words to that effect - such was his effort and willingness to pop up for every bit of hard yardage available.

But he was also willing to set up tries, score them, and be involved in the Warriors becoming an attacking juggernaut.

While injuries haven't helped this year, there is little doubt that at full strength - on paper at least - the Auckland-based side have more than enough talent to be challenging for the finals, and more, come September.

The addition of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - currently injured - should have only improved that, and while he has had some nice moments, it would be more than fair to say he hasn't quite had his way in the centres as he used to at the back.

With no clear timeline on a return for Luke Metcalf, and another young fullback in Taine Tuaupiki clearly proving he is cut out for NRL level at fullback while Tuivasa-Sheck is sidelined, is there a train of thought that suggests Nicoll-Klokstad should remain at five-eighth?

He has been left there for this weekend's clash with the Dolphins, and while it may not be a long-term play given his skill at fullback, it could also be best for Webster's side given the lack of Metcalf.

Five-eighth is clearly where the Warriors struggled most since Metcalf went down injured.

There is a clear difference when he is fit compared to when he isn't, and just maybe, Nicoll-Klokstad is the player to slot in there, even potentially alongside a fit Shaun Johnson to spark the Warriors' attack.

At full strength, there is little doubt a side with both Nicoll-Klokstad and Tuivasa-Sheck getting their hands on the ball more often than not is better than a side where one of them have to wait out in the centres before making a play.

Metcalf is the obvious question around suitability at full strength, but Tuivasa-Sheck was one of the best fullbacks in the world during his first NRL stint, so it could well be that Metcalf is the odd man out.

Webster is likely to have a few more weeks to determine whether it's going to work or it was a one-off, but Nicoll-Klokstad is the kind of player who is only going to improve the more chances he gets in the number six.

It just might have the potential to ensure the Warriors are Built Different again in 2024.

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