If there was any doubt over who will play fullback for the New Zealand Warriors next season, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad removed it on Saturday.

He has stated at least twice since Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was signed for next season that he'd be keeping the number one jersey, and it's abundantly clear that his confidence isn't misplaced.

The Warriors' run to the preliminary finals this season has been something of a fairytale.

Anyone outside of their most optimistic fans and the club's players and staff themselves telling you they had the Warriors going this far this season is outright lying.

Double-digit new signings, a halfback who seemed past his best, a fullback who hadn't played well since 2019 and all of that under a rookie coach meant most were expecting a long, long season for the Warriors, whose only advantage seemed to be the fact they'd be able to play home games in Auckland for the entire season for the first time since COVID.

But how the tables have turned.

Those same spine players who had enormous question marks have answered them emphatically. The forward pack have played out of their skin. The outside backs have all kicked into gear.

What happened on Saturday, with the Warriors running up 40 points on the Newcastle Knights in a home semi-final to move within 80 minutes of the grand final was simply magic.

In the post-game wash-up, as has been the case most of the season, Shaun Johnson took most of the credit.

And sure, the halfback, who was doubtful of playing until the day before the game after missing the club's qualifying final against the Penrith Panthers the week prior with a calf injury, was sensational.

He had a couple of try assists, controlled the kicking game and ran the ball strongly in the second half as the Warriors tore strips off their opposition.

But it's Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad who flew under the radar yet again.

During the aforementioned 2019 season, when the Canberra Raiders went all the way to the grand final, the fullback was regularly among the club's best - he ran on 11 tries, had three try assists, made 175 metres per game and defended strongly.

Fast forward to this year, and he has been on another level for the Warriors.

His work in making Johnson's life - and, by extension, the forward's lives - easier has been something special. He averages 187 metres per game and sits fifth in the competition for total run metres.

In big games, success is so often measured by a team's ability to get on the front foot, and there is no surprise to anyone that it's often generated by the back three.

Want more proof?

Dylan Edwards (first), Brian To'o (fourth) and Sunia Turuva (seventh), the fullback and wingers for minor premiers the Penrith Panthers, are all in the top ten for total run metres this season.

NRL Rd 10 - Warriors v Panthers

That only becomes more important the bigger the games get. We have seen it regularly in State of Origin. The entire 2021 series victory for New South Wales was generated by the back five all cracking big metres in each game.

It's little surprise over the last two years that their dominance in that department has disappeared, and with it, so has the Origin shield.

If you're looking for an unbelievable tally in a big game, then Nicoll-Klokstad's performance against the Knights was something to behold.

He had a staggering 32 runs of the football for 299 metres, adding eight tackle busts and over 100 post-contact metres throughout the contest.

They are numbers you just don't see all that often, and coach Andrew Webster could only laugh when he heard exactly what Nicoll-Klokstad had done in the post-game press conference.

"He was a freak tonight. He was uneblievable. He just kept going," Webster said.

Captain Tohu Harris said he actually had to remind Nicoll-Klokstad at one point that the remainder of the playing group could contribute, so involved was he.

"There were times through the night when we actually had to tell him 'we are alright too, you can calm down,'" Harris said.

"He brings that kind of energy. All week he has, he is on the go, so positive and he would do anything for his teammates and that showed tonight."

NRL Rd 11 - Bulldogs v Warriors

Nicoll-Klokstad's performance came on the back of him being the club's best in a losing performance against the Panthers, where he made 175 metres.

Only once this season has he failed to make 100 metres, but in 15 of his 22 games, he has made at least 180, with eight of those cracking the 200 barrier.

It's a picture of remarkable consistency, effort and energy.

When you add to that the level of his support play and rugby league IQ, where he has scored seven tries, assisted 7, broke tackles 95 times and had countless plays which have benefited his team but don't show up on the stats sheet, it's hard to suggest he isn't in the running for fullback of the year honours given Reece Walsh is unable to be selected thanks to a suspension.

His season means the confidence Webster has already shown in him by reportedly suggesting Tuivasa-Sheck will play in the centres next year is spot on.

Tuivasa-Sheck himself was one of the elite metre eaters for a fullback during his previous stint in the NRL, and given what else he brings to a side, it's not going to be the most straightforward decision for Webster.

The code-hopping Kiwi and All Black will undoubtedly have an eye on going back to fullback at some stage, but right now, it's impossible to justify.

That said, his return to the club means the Warriors will have untold depth at the back - two excellent players who can slot into the number one jumper at any time.

If the Warriors are going to knock over the Brisbane Broncos in a preliminary final this weekend, then Nicoll-Klokstad's performance becomes doubly important.

Walsh has been one of the game's elite this year, and the Brisbane forward pack is one of the few who can match the Warriors, something the Knights simply couldn't do once the likes of Addin Fonua-Blake and Mitch Barnett were consistently able to get back behind the ball early in the tackle count.

It means Nicoll-Klokstad getting his side rolling onto the front foot exactly as he did time and time against the Knights will be critical.

The Warriors need more than just that to go right, but their star fullback leading the charge and further cementing his role for 2024 could be the difference between a historic grand final appearance, or a brave preliminary final exit.