GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09: Ken Maumalo of the Warriors celebrates with his team during the round five NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Manly Sea Eagles at Central Coast Stadium, on April 09, 2021, in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The New Zealand Warriors are set for yet another season on the road as coronavirus and border restrictions continues to ruin their chances of returning home.

Brave is the word to describe them, but will it improve their results.

Here is the full season preview for the Warriors.

2021 Season

The Warriors were as brave as anyone could have expected in 2021 however were also far from consistent enough to come anywhere near finals footy.

Four competition points and 168 differential was a big gulf but truthfully an 8 and 16 record doesn't deserve to be anywhere near finals consideration.

Obviously the main talking point was being forced into yet another season away from home. The person largely holding together the squad, captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has exited the club, which is a huge blow on and off the park.

Reece Walsh became an overnight megastar in a debut season to remember. Euan Aitken's career received a big kickstart via a move in position. There were absolutely positives in an overall unsuccessful season.

Off-season moves

2022 gains
Lleyton Finau (2022), Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks, 2023), Otukinekina Kepu (2024), Valingi Kepu (2024), 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)

2022 losses
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)

Recruitment Impact

The Warriors have taken a huge risk in bringing back former club legend Shaun Johnson to lead their side. They have partnered him with Ash Taylor in another huge risk.

If both players play to their ultimate potential then there is every chance the Warriors have made two spectacular recruitment moves. That said, the risk is monumental in that neither play can be accused of being consistent.

Tuivasa-Sheck is an unreplaceable exit from the club. Reece Walsh is an amazing, young footballer but RTS was the heart and soul of that club.

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)

To the Warriors credit, they have moved on some big-name and underperforming players. The rebuild is on but I can't shake thoughts that bringing Johnson back was more about appeasing fans than chasing results.

Talking Points

Another season away: News broke as I was typing this that the June homecoming fixture against the Panthers has been cancelled.

Reading between the lines it looks as though the Warriors will be forced into continuing to play 'home' games in Australia.

August, 2019 was the last time this side played in front of their home fans. Tuivasa-Sheck was a huge part of holding the team together. In 2020 and 2021 they lost players to homesickness. It's a shame but the NRL has their hands tied. I hope it continues to bind the team together but it has to be difficult.

Patience?: Can the Warriors and their fans remain patient? My guess is they're going to have to. The Warriors opening give games are favourable before they run into the Roosters and Storm.

They'll need to be 3-2 at worst to feature come finals time. If they start the season slowly then Nathan Brown and Shaun Johnson will find themselves under immediate pressure.

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)

Given the situation, surely both men need to be given the entire 2022 season to prove they can combine to lead the team into the future. Can a success-starved fanbase show the patience required?

Pack Mentality: This forward pack is frightening. Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge are as intimidating as the come. Josh Curran was one of the finds of the 2021 season and should start in his preferred lock position.

Euan Aitken enjoyed a career revitalisation in the second row and looks a brilliant option. Bayley Sironen or Jack Murchie will likely fill in until Tohu Harris returns from injury.

The Warriors need to be a team that grinds opposition packs down and creates easy targets for Walsh and Johnson. They have the personnel to do this very well.

Watch Rugby League Outlaws discuss the Warriors in their season preview

Key player:

Shaun Johnson
I alluded to the risk in bringing Johnson back above. They have thrown big money and have placed a huge expectation upon a player who was publicly marched out of the club after being told he wasn't good enough. That can go one of two ways.

That said, for the Warriors to make a dent in 2022 Shaun Johnson must be their best player.

At times for the Sharks he was a near passenger. For 78 minutes you'd sit back, waiting for the SJ of old to win the game through individual brilliance, only for him to not touch the ball.

At other times Johnson was, by far, the best player on the park and would blow opposition sides away with relative ease.

The Warriors need the latter Shaun Johnson. They need vintage SJ. If that comes off, then this recruitment decision is a masterstroke.

Big season for:

Ashley Taylor
With the greatest of respects to Chanel Harris-Tavita, who I believe is a super talent, the Warriors need Ash Taylor to finally deliver on his undoubted promise.

A fully firing Johnson and Taylor combo is mouth-watering.

Taylor has been given a chance his 2021 form probably didn't warrant, but he has trained well and has earned his contract.

This could be the remaking of a player who once looked a near lock to play plenty of Origin football.

The talent is still there. Judging by his contract, his drive is also. I fully admit to leading the Ash Taylor fan club but if he can nail the spot next to Johnson, the sky is once again the limit.

Breakout Star:

Reece Walsh
I'm cheating here as Reece Walsh is technically already a star, but the list of players who have fallen victim the dreaded second-year syndrome is long.

Walsh had a difficult off-season. We won't go into that here but what we will mention is that he showed maturity beyond his years in fronting the media and taking full responsibility.

That bodes well for a kid who looks every bit the game's next superstar.

The Warriors will be relying heavily on the youngster. Perhaps too much. That said, Walsh showed in 2021 he is more than up for it despite his young age.

NRL Rd 15 - Knights v Warriors
NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 19: Reece Walsh of the Warriors warms up during the round 15 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the New Zealand Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium, on June 19, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Fixtures to watch

Round 7 vs Storm: For whatever reason, the Warriors always seem to worry the Storm. The now traditional Anzac Day clash is a real highlight for fans of both clubs and neutrals alike. AAMI Park rocks on Anzac Day and hopefully, it will be full once again, post-Covid restrictions. Johnson and Walsh vs Munster and Papenhuyzen. Sign me up!

Round 15 vs Panthers: This was meant to be the Warriors homecoming. The fixture we were all looking forward to. The Warriors returning home following two seasons away, running out in front of a huge crowd. They deserve it and news delivered a few days ago broke hearts. I hope the crowd shows up and makes this as genuine a Warriors home game as possible.

Round 2 vs Titans: The Warriors need to hit the ground running. Their star youngster returns in Round 2 after his suspension. Matt Lodge returns also.

This game means more to the Warriors than the majority of games in Round 2. Round 1 is super important, all games are, but this will be a full-strength Warriors side for the first time this season.

MACKAY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27: Matt Lodge of the Warriors is tackled during the round 24 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at BB Print Stadium, on August 27, 2021, in Mackay, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Prediction

This shapes as yet another familiar season for the Warriors. There will be games where this side looks unbeatable. My guess is they will be sandwiched between games where they look well off the pace.

The Warriors can hardly be accused of showing a level of consistency, outside of being consistently inconsistent.

The solution; sign two of the most inconsistent, albeit brilliant on their day, halves and hope their rookie number one continues his meteoric rise.

The Warriors have one of the game's elite front row combinations but, again, they can either dominate or go completely missing.

I can't see any way this side is able to string together the wins required to do anything more than comfortably avoid a wooden spoon battle.

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