The New Zealand Warriors come into the 2022 season with what should be a better preparation than they were able to have 12 months ago.

An almost set in stone return date, and the knowledge that they will spend most of the season in Australia has allowed players to set up with their families for time in Redcliffe.

With the local community rallying around them, the return of Shaun Johnson to his former home club and Nathan Brown now firmly established as head coach of the Auckland club, there is a feeling they could well challenge for a spot in the finals.

They will need to be at their best to get there, and an early-season injury to Tohu Harris won't help their cause.

Here is the best 17 to fight for a finals spot at the Warriors.

Recruitment report

Ins: Jesse Arthars (Brisbane Broncos - loan), Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks, 2023), Aaron Pene (Melbourne Storm, 2023), Ashley Taylor (Gold Coast Titans, 2022)

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 01: Ash Taylor of the Titans passes the ball during the round four NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium on April 1, 2018 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Outs: Leeson Ah Mau (retired), Kane Evans (Hull FC), David Fusitu'a (Leeds Rhinos), Peta Hiku (North Queensland Cowboys), Karl Lawton (Manly Sea Eagles), Ken Maumalo (Wests Tigers), Sean O'Sullivan (Penrith Panthers), Hayze Perham (Parramatta Eels), Jamayne Taunoa-Brown (North Queensland Cowboys), Chad Townsend (North Queensland Cowboys), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Rugby union), Paul Turner (Gold Coast Titans)

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 11: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors offloads during the round nine NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium on May 11, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Re-signed: Bunty Afoa (2023), Rocco Berry (2024), Josh Curran (2023), Edward Kosi (2023), Kodi Nikorima (2022), Taniela Otukolo (2024), Adam Pompey (2023), Jazz Tevaga (2023)

Full squad
Bunty Afoa, Euan Aitken, Rocco Berry, Josh Curran, Wayde Egan, Addin Fonua-Blake, Jackson Frei, Tohu Harris, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Shaun Johnson, Temple Kalepo, Eliesa Katoa, Edward Kosi, Matthew Lodge, Marcelo Montoya, Jack Murchie, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Kodi Nikorima, Taniela Otukolo, Aaron Pene, Pride Petterson-Robati, Adam Pompey, Iliesa Ratuva, Bayley Sironen, Ashley Taylor, Jazz Tevaga, Viliami Vailea, Reece Walsh, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

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)

Who plays where?

The Warriors have a little bit of depth to play at the back in 2022. Reece Walsh is the obvious candidate to wear the number one jersey though following the exit of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and the breakout year Walsh enjoyed during 2021.

Behind Walsh is Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who will fight for a wing spot in the meantime, while Rocco Berry could be one of the players to follow this season once he gets an opportunity.

He crossed over from rugby union a few years ago and while he has played at centre for the majority of his eight NRL appearances, fullback is ultimately where he played his best rugby league in the juniors.

Given he won't be considered as the first-choice fullback, former Panther and Bulldog Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will be the man to take the first wing spot, having played nine games for the Warriors since moving to the club in mid 2021.

The other spot is far less certain.

Jesse Arthars arrives on loan from the Brisbane Broncos and could line up out wide, while Marcel Montoya is the incumbent winger, having played each of the last eight games for the Warriors there in 2021.

Edward Kosi has impressed in his five appearances on the wing and is another option, while youngster Iliesa Ratuva is also in the squad.

Montoya, as incumbent, will probably start the season, but expect to see Kosi in this position by the time the year is out, provided coach Nathan Brown has him ahead of Arthars in the pecking order.

The depth in the centres is far shorter, although any of the wingers could realistically shift in field if Brown finds the need for it throughout the season.

Euan Aitken has transitioned into a second-rower after an impressive finish to 2021 and so will be named there, leaving Adam Pompey and Rocco Berry to take the starting centre spots.

The only competition for the duo will come from youngster Viliami Vailea, who made two appearances against the Tigers and Sharks at the end of 2021 as the Warriors dealt with a mass injury crisis.

The return of Shaun Johnson and signing of Ashley Taylor seriously complicate things in the halves for the Warriors.

NRL Rd 9 - Sharks v Panthers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 11: Shaun Johnson of the Sharks looks to pass the ball during the round nine NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on July 11, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Johnson walks straight into this side at number six following a run of strong form at the Cronulla Sharks. It saw him playing more measured, level-headed football than he has in his entire career, and it's exactly what the Warriors need.

The other spot is anyone's guess. Taylor will fight for it alongside Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita.

Given the Warriors are currently trying to re-sign Harris-Tavita, and the fact he has plenty of potential he is yet to fulfil, expect him to be named, with Nikorima in contention for a bench spot.

Taylor won't be far away from first-grade though if the Warriors can't string together some early-season victories.

Middle forwards
The middle forward is the easiest to pick in the Warriors side.

Addin Fonua-Blake has just re-signed with the club long-term and is an absolute gun in the middle third, having averaged 160 metres per contest in 2021 as he tried to drag the Warriors into the finals.

Matt Lodge will partner him up front, although Nathan Brown and his coaching staff desperately need him to stop being suspended for incidents of hot-headedness on the field.

Lock simply must be Tohu Harris. He is listed as a second-rower, but he plays his best football in the middle third. He will be injured for the first part of the season, but once he returns, is good for 50 tackles per week and leads the pack from the front.

There is no point him doing that from the second-row, particularly when Josh Curran is a gun out wide and plays his best football there.

While Harris is injured, the Warriors may elect to move Curran into the middle, or otherwise call on Jazz Tevaga. Other back ups for the middle position include Tom Ale, Bunty Afoa, Jackson Frei or recruits Pride Petterson-Robati and Aaron Pene.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 16: Tohu Harris of the Warriors makes a break during the round 1 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Mt Smart Stadium on March 16, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/2019 Getty Images)

Wayde Egan will start at hooker and play big minutes once again in the 2022 season. He stood up in 2021 and has recently re-signed with the club.

The former Panther will never be among the best hookers in the game, but his 20 appearances last year for the Warriors saw him perform consistently and never fail to do the job.

Taniela Utokolo is the man who will put pressure on him, with the young gun impressing during limited appearances at the back-end of the 2021 season.

As mentioned, Euan Aitken deserves to keep his spot in the second-row and will do so, with Josh Curran the other starter out wide.

The duo finished the 2021 season strongly and are the best options to begin 2022 there.

There is plenty of depth in the second-row though. Veteran Ben Murdoch-Masila, Eliesa Katoa, Jack Murchie and Bayley Sironen are all starting-calibre players, but won't have a spot in the Warriors' best 17 for 2022.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 30: Euan Aitken of the Warriors is tackled during the round 20 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the New Zealand Warriors at Suncorp Stadium, on July 30, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Kodi Nikorima will battle with Otukolo for the first spot on the bench. Where Nikorima brings the advantage is that he can serve as a genuine utility with the ability to play in the halves.

Otukolo is more of a genuine dummy half without utility value, which could be important given Egan at times isn't an 80-minute player, but Nikorima can do the job for 15 or 20 minutes to give Egan the break he needs.

Given Fonua-Blake and Lodge both aren't big-minute players, the Warriors must name two middle forwards on the bench and then know flexibility exists to push Tohu Harris to the edge if injuries strike or the need is there.

It means Bunty Afoa will take the first of those spots following a strong 2021, while Ben Murdoch-Masila, who can also push out to the edge if need be, takes the other. That does leave both Pene and Petterson-Robati out of the side.

The final spot could go to any number of second-rowers, but unfortunately for Sironen and Murchie, they both miss out to Eliesa Katoa who has 31 games of NRL experience under his belt.

The best 17

1. Reece Walsh
2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
3. Rocco Berry
4. Adam Pompey
5. Edward Kosi
6. Shaun Johnson
7. Chanel Harris-Tavita
8. Addin Fonua-Blake
9. Wayde Egan
10. Matt Lodge
11. Euan Aitken
12. Josh Curran
13. Tohu Harris

14. Kodi Nikorima
15. Ben Murdoch-Masila
16. Bunty Afoa
17. Eliesa Katoa

Other best 17s

Brisbane Broncos
Canberra Raiders
Canterbury Bulldogs
Cronulla Sharks
Gold Coast Titans
Manly Sea Eagles
Melbourne Storm
Newcastle Knights
North Queensland Cowboys
Parramatta Eels
Penrith Panthers
South Sydney Rabbitohs