The New Zealand Warriors will finally return home on a permanent basis for the 2023 NRL season following a period spent during the coronavirus pandemic as the nomadic Warriors.

The Central Coast and then Redcliffe hosted a bulk of the club's games with crossing a closed border to New Zealand's capital of Auckland being out of the question each week.

Predictably, the Warriors struggled enormously to come to terms with the difficult period of time, and would ultimately finish in 15th spot during the most recently completed season, avoiding the wooden spoon ahead of the woeful Wests Tigers.

But that doesn't all simply go away just because the Warriors are about to return home.

Instead, Andrew Webster will face the greatest challenge to date of his coaching career as he takes over from Nathan Brown to run the Warriors in his first head coaching job, having exited the Penrith Panthers set up alongside another assistant in Cameron Ciraldo, who has taken the head coaching job at the Canterbury Bulldogs.

There is little doubt the Warriors have serious deficiencies in their squad, despite some handy off-season signings and a general overhaul, but if the men from Auckland could add any player in the competition to their squad without salary cap or contractual issues, who would it be?

Current squad

Bunty Afoa, Tom Ale, Mitch Barnett, Rocco Berry, Josh Curran, Wayde Egan, Addin Fonua-Blake, Jackson Ford, Jackson Frei, Tohu Harris, Shaun Johnson, Otukinekina Kepu, Valingi Kepu, Edward Kosi, Freddy Lussick, Te Maire Martin, Luke Metcalf, Marcelo Montoya, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Marata Niukore, Taniela Otukolo, Adam Pompey, Bayley Sironen, Jazz Tevaga, Viliami Vailea, Ronald Volkman, Dylan Walker, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Brayden Williame

NRL Rd 18 - Warriors v Panthers
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 18: Wayde Egan of the Warriors breaks through the Panthers defence before scoring a try during the round 18 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium, on July 18, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)


As mentioned, the Warriors have made plenty of key signings for the 2023 season - ones they will hope have the ability to turn the club around from the pitfalls they have faced over not just the last 12, but 24 months.

The biggest of those signings is Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

The former Raiders fullback barely played first-grade during the 2022 campaign, but still has plenty of talent after missing much of the year due to injury.

The star number one will slot straight into the jersey, having been signed as a replacement for the departing Reece Walsh, who has been granted a release from the final year of his deal to be closer to home at the Brisbane Broncos - the club he was originally with before exiting for the Warriors.

Nicoll-Klokstad will take much of the attention, but the twin signings of Dylan Walker and Marata Niukore will add plenty to the side for 2023.

Both of those players are likely to come from the bench, although could start at various points during the season. The versatility (Walker can play at lock, or in the backs, while Niukore is predominantly a prop or second rower, but can also play at centre) adds an extra layer of coverage which should help the side enormously by having two bench spots filled in for the entire season, albeit with players who can start in multiple positions should injury strike.

Elsewhere in the side, the Warriors look short of depth, with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak the leader in an inexperienced wing and centre combination.

Expect Adam Pompey, Viliami Vailea and Rocco Berry to be the front-runners for the presumably three open positions in the backline, with Edward Kosi and recent signing Brayden Williame the other options.

Another big question Webster must answer throughout the 2023 campaign is exactly what to do with Shaun Johnson.

NRL Rd 1 - Warriors v Dragons
SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 12: Shaun Johnson of the Warriors kicks the ball during the warm-up before during the round one NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium, on March 12, 2022, in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Given everything which has taken place in recent times, it would be a difficult conversation to have telling Johnson he isn't wanted, but with Ronald Volkman and Luke Metcalf in the squad, he will need to be somewhere near his best to retain his position throughout the season.

Both Volkman and Metcalf could yet also come into calculation for the number six jersey, with Te Maire MIartin an almost certain starter within the Warriors halves, although it's unclear if he will wear six or seven.

In the forwards, Addin Fonua-Blake, Wayde Egan, Josh Curran and Tohu Harris are joined as starting forwards by the addition of Mitch Barnett, who arrives at the club from the Newcastle Knights.

That does leave a prop position open, which will likely be filled by Bunty Afoa who can bring plenty of spark and willingness to the forward pack early on in the season.

With most of the forward pack taken care of, the only factor which could be seen as an issue for the Warriors is a lack of depth on the bench, with Walker and Jazz Tevaga the first to fill it, likely joined by Niukore and another yet to be determined player - Bayley Sironen and Jackson Ford, who has arrived from the St George Illawarra Dragons - seem to be the favourites for the roll.

However, it's clear the Warriors are short a prop.

Options to steal

Option 1: Valentine Holmes (North Queensland Cowboys)
Holmes came into the 2022 season without a great deal of expectation - and frankly, it was the same for his Cowboys' teammates.

Despite only ever playing fullback or on the wing at NRL level, all the pre-season conversation suggested he would find himself lining up in the centres for 2022.

The doubters were out in force, but it took little to no time for Holmes to silence them, putting on performance after performance for the Cowboys, who did the same, ultimately winding up in the top four.

While Holmes would waltz into a starting spot at the Warriors, there is a second reason he is an ideal option to steal.

Nicoll-Klokstad, who will hold the number one jersey, has just spent the best part of a season out of first grade. That is a big turn around to suddenly be playing week in and week out again, and Holmes is suitable back up if injury or form issues strike.

Try Assists
LB Assists

Option 2: Alex Johnston (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
There is little that hasn't already been said about Alex Johnston. The South Sydney flyer is the top try scorer in the NRL and has been at or near the top for a number of years now.

But more than that is played in the winning side for most of his NRL career and would bring that same winning mentality to the warriors. That, frankly, is something that the club needs in spades given their struggles to make the finals on a regular basis.

We have seen the Warriors struggling badly with their defence over the past couple of seasons and one of Johnson's key attributes is defence.He of course gets plenty of credit for the way he attacks and scores tries but there islittle doubt just how good Johnson is in defence.

Johnston would bring both sides of the game to the Warriors in a back line which is currently short on depth and talent to compete with the NRL's top sides.

All Run Metres
Tackles Made

Option 3: Adam Reynolds (Brisbane Broncos)
Steering away from the back line options now and the Warriors could certainly do with an experienced halfback.

That isn't to say that the combination of Martin, Johnson, Volkman and Metcalf can't get the job done, but the Warriors badly need a calming influence over the side.

Reynolds has one of the competition's best kicking games, and it was proven time and time again during his first season at the Brisbane Broncos in 2022.

For a half, he is also one of the competition's better defenders, and his experience is what the Warriors need more than just about anything else.

All Run Metres
Tackles Made

Option 4: Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders)
As mentioned in the above section, the Warriors arte certainly short of a good prop for the 2023 season.

They are also short of a powerhouse who plays big minutes, and on that front, there are none better than Tapine.

The Canberra prop plays around the hour mark every week, and the second half of his 2022 campaign proved just how exceptional he can be.

Regularly flattening opposition forward packs, he quickly became the best middle forward in the competition during 2022, and will be looking to continue that run in 2023.

Try Assists

The verdict

As appealing as the idea of an experienced halfback, or a big towering prop is, the Warriors' biggest problem is their outside backs.

They struggled enormously in defence out wide last year, and will likely do the same this season unless Webster can coach the team to greatness.

That said, a player the likes of Holmes simply works on multiple fronts, and covers multiple potential needs for the club.

He surprised all during the 2022 season with just how good he was in the centres, and is the ultimate steal option for the men from Auckland.

Valentine Holmes.


  1. Well, If we’re talking fantasy, why not Latrell Mitchell ?
    Play him in the centres, or play him at full back if Nichol-Klokstat bombs out !

  2. Holmes is a good shout I’m with @OldHarry, you might as well pick the cream of the crop. Joey Manu, Nathan Cleary and Jesse Bromwich for leadership and experience would be my picks. All three bring a winning culture and have ties to the club whether it be rumoured, a return home or perhaps in Cleary’s case – unfinished business. If I had to choose one it’d definitely be Cleary. I’d love to see him return to the Warriors as a player and guide them to their first prem.

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