After three seasons, finally, the New Zealand Warriors will start a season on home soil, although it isn't shaping up to be a blockbuster.

The team finished 10th, 12th and 15th across their three COVID seasons, a mighty effort after being away from home for almost the entire period, especially 2020 where players were separated from their families.

The club brought Shaun Johnson back to the club last year, however the halfback's return didn't live up to the hype, winning just five of the 21 games he started in. The side also lost Reece Walsh to Brisbane, arguably their brightest attacking spark.

They've rebuilt their roster, releasing Matt Lodge and Kodi Nikorima midway through 2022 to rival sides before going on a shopping spree for this season, however while they've got some great recruits, they need to put them into the right areas.

Recruitment Report

Ins: Mitch Barnett (Newcastle Knights, 2025), Jackson Ford (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2024), Valingi Kepu (2024), Te Maire Martin (2025), Luke Metcalf (Cronulla Sharks, 2024), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Canberra Raiders, 2025), Marata Niukore (Parramatta Eels, 2026), Demitric Sifakula (2025), Taine Tuaupiki (2023), Dylan Walker (Manly Sea Eagles, 2025), Brayden Wiliame (2024)

Outs: Euan Aitken (The Dolphins), Daejarn Asi (Parramatta Eels), Lleyton Finau (released), Jackson Frei (released), Eliesa Katoa (Melbourne Storm), Matthew Lodge (released), Dunamis Lui (released), Jack Murchie (Parramatta Eels), Ben Murdoch-Masila (St George Illawarra Dragons), Kodi Nikorima (The Dolphins), Aaron Pene (Melbourne Storm), Pride Petterson-Robati, Junior Ratuva (released), Ashley Taylor (retired), Reece Walsh (Brisbane Broncos)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 16: Dylan Walker of the Sea Eagles celebrates scoring a try during the round 14 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Lottoland on June 16, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Recruitment Impact

The club has been busy, signing Mitch Barnett, Dylan Walker, Te Maire Martin, Luke Metcalf, Marata Niukore and more, revitalising their squad after some decent losses in the departure column.

However, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is the big fish after Reece Walsh's departure to Red Hill. Expected to start at fullback, if he can rediscover his 2019 form, the Warriors could surprise a few.

Their middle is still extremely light, expect Tohu Harris to push into the front-row around the 20-25th minute mark each, and bring Dylan Walker onto the park. They're a mobile pack, but they lack that oomph, that size.

The big talking points

Who plays fullback?
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is the favoured man for the role, but is he the best fit?

There's no doubting the former Raider is up to the task, but the Warriors are crying out for speed and creativity in the spine, and there's definite question marks over whether 'CNK' delivers that.

The club has signed Luke Metcalf who can play five-eighth or fullback and shone in the first trial, while Taine Tuaupiki, a young fullback from Burleigh, was upgraded onto a top 30 deal over the weekend.

A move into the centres could be perfect for Nicoll-Klokstad to rediscover his ball-running best without the pressure in the spine.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 06: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad of the Raiders looks on during the 2019 NRL Grand Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Will a return home boost the club?
The Warriors returned to New Zealand midway through last season to varying success, winning two of four clashes at Mt Smart Stadium.

They get a whole pre-season at home this time around, including their first Round 1 match across the ditch since 2019, however it wasn't exactly a fortress before COVID.

While mentally it's a boost to be able to play in front of those home crowds, it means a lot more time spent travelling, time on buses and planes compared to the past three seasons, which can take a toll of its own.

3. How will Andrew Webster fare as coach?
Some clubs are rather tricky when it comes to coaching. Some any coach can walk into and take the reins, and some that need a coach that understands the DNA around the place.

Webster has coached just three games across his career, two at the Wests Tigers and one at Penrith, for three losses, and the pressure will be on to produce results in his maiden season.

Players speak highly of the new mentor, but it's one thing to make a good impression and another to be an effective coach. The club has churned through head coaches in the last decade, Webster will need to make an impact on-field fast to ensure he isn't just another name.

Star Player: Addin Fonua-Blake
This ex-Manly prop has been a presence since arriving at the club in 2021, and his motor is only getting bigger as gets older.

The vice-captain of the club, Fonua-Blake leads with his actions on-field and sets the path for his forward pack through the middle third. The Warriors absolutely need Addin on the field if they are to escape the bottom four in 2023.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27: Addin Fonua-Blake of the Warriors is tackled during the round three NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Warriors at GIO Stadium on March 27, 2021, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Player under pressure: Shaun Johnson
A Golden Boot winner in his day, injuries have slowed down Shaun Johnson over time, and he's simply not the player he used to be in his heyday.

The halfback should learn from Kiwis legend Benji Marshall, who became more patient as time went on, and let the play come to him, building pressure instead of coming up with the flashy play.

It's a contract year for Shaun and turning 33 later this season, this could be the end of the line for Johnson.

Breakout star: Viliami Vailea
The centre debuted last season, however some inconsistent form and injuries derailed Vailea's maiden season, however 2023 is shaping up to be a big one.

While some question marks remain over their backline, Vailea looks to have sewn up the right centre spot inside Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, watch out for some barnstorming runs from the 20-year-old.

He could be a decade-long Warrior, whilst only having signed through to 2025 for now, this kid is bursting with potential.

2023 Draw impact

The return to New Zealand is a double-edged sword, the pros of a home ground advantage cancelled out by the cons of so much added travel.

The Warriors will spend just over 83 hours travelling by plane this season, over 16 hours more than any other club in the NRL.

RELATED: How long will each team spend in the air during 2023?

While their byes are all around the Origin period, Rounds 12, 16 and 22, the club isn't expected to lose anyone to the representative series, meaning they'd rather play the weakened sides in that time period.

Fixtures to watch

Round 1 vs Newcastle Knights, Sky Stadium, 6pm AEDT, Friday March 3rd
The club's first home opener in four years, expect an absolute roar from the crowd for the clash, unveiling their new recruits in a winnable game at a packed-out Sky Stadium in Wellington. The noise will be up there with their return match midway through 2022, a must-win to start the year.

Round 8 vs Melbourne Storm, AAMI Park, 7pm AEDT, Tuesday April 25th
The annual ANZAC Day clash, the Warriors will be eager to put last year's 70-10 loss behind them. Usually an emotion-filled match, the Storm have a good record in the clash as of late however the New Zealand side has certainly been known to pull out an upset in the clash.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Bunty Afoa of the Warriors is tackled by Cameron Munster and Kenny Bromwich of the Storm during the round 7 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors at AAMI Park on April 25, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

3. Round 24 vs Wests Tigers, FMG Stadium Waikato, 5:30pm AEDT, Saturday August 12th
Another must-win, the Wests Tigers are one of the only teams to take a home game against the Warriors to New Zealand in 2023. While they'll face former Warriors' forward Isaiah Papali'i, this game may not have top eight ramifications, but it may decide who finishes where on the lower end of the ladder.


Jack Blyth
A return to home soil and some strong signings have the Warriors on an upward trajectory, however the club is consistently inconsistent, and 2023 isn't shaping up as their year.

Their first trial made it clear that Luke Metcalf has to start at fullback with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the centres, however it appears new coach Andrew Webster will play the latter at the back with the former outside the 17.

Success starts with Shaun Johnson, who has to take a leaf out of Benji Marshall's book and let the play come to him. He isn't the fleet-footed kid we were all in awe of anymore, he needs to steer now, not create a highlight reel.


Dan Nicholls
Despite some clever signings, the squad just looks too thin and over-reliant on “all or nothing” players to realistically push for a spot in the Eight.

Shaun Johnson is in career-best shape but translating that to on-field performance may largely decide their season. If he starts slowly then NRL rookie coach Andrew Webster will need to find a way to get Luke Metcalf into the side.


Scott Pryde
The Warriors are in for a rough season, even being back at home. They have made some strides in recruitment, but it's hard to see any of them fixing the issues at hand.

Their forward pack lacks depth, and the old question around Shaun Johnson isn't about to go anywhere, while Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad hasn't had a good season since the Raiders made the grand final.


Zero Tackle calculator: 17th

Zero Tackle's calculated prediction is the average tip of all three tipsters, with the lowest average the minor premiers, and the highest average the wooden spooners.