AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 31: Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors celebrate after winning the round 25 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium on August 31, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

In astounding news for NRL fans, the Warriors returned to the finals for the first time since 2011. Though the team placed eighth overall by the 25th round, it was an exceptional season for the franchise — and one like it hasn’t had in decades. These are a few ways the Warriors rose to defy odds in 2018 and how this compares to the last time they made the finals seven seasons ago.

The 2018 Finals Outcome for the New Zealand Warriors

The New Zealand Warriors ended their 24th season in the NRL in eighth place. Though they did return to the finals for the first time since 2011, they, unfortunately, did not progress past the elimination round. They fell to Penrith and concluded the season with the following stats:

  • Each team played 24 games in the 2018 season and had one bye week.
  • The Warriors won 15 games and lost nine. No match ended in a draw this year.
  • The Warriors were eliminated, having scored 472 points and having given up 447 points for the year. This is a point differential of +25.
  • The Warriors ended their year with 32 competition points.

The back three proved pivotal to the Warrior’s attacking success this year. David Fusitu’a led the scoring with 22, and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck and Ken Maumalo were both among the top 10 for the team’s run meters. Isaah Yeo was also a notable player in terms of individual contribution — he took this pitch in every match the Warriors played. Only 46 players in the league played in every round with their teams.

Despite plenty of attacking success and a positive scoring differential, the Warriors fell to the Penrith Panthers in the first elimination round game, which was held on Sept. 8. The Warriors were the away team, with Penrith having been guaranteed a home final for the week one elimination game. The Panthers had already won against the Warriors once during the regular season — and it proved to be a fairly embarrassing loss, with Penrith topping the Warriors 34-6. This marked a low point for New Zealand’s team, and many fans and analysts concluded that the Warrior’s wouldn’t go on to the finals.

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Of course, the Warriors secured several wins throughout the remainder of the regular season, including a pivotal 36-16 triumph over the Panthers leading into the season final. This gave the team plenty of momentum heading into the do-or-die portion of the season, but the Panthers still managed to knock them out, securing a 27-12 win when it mattered most for the teams. Penrith wound up in fifth place overall for the 2018 NRL season.

The Panthers owed their success in this elimination game to passionate play, both on the offensive and defensive fronts. Like the Warriors, they entered the playoff portion of the season having come off some tough wins — despite their 36-16 loss to New Zealand in the last legs of the regular season.

The Warriors’ 2018 Season and NRL Highlights

The team’s stats leaders were one of the biggest highlights for the Warriors this year. Also, if you follow NRL statistics and want to know the true reasons behind teams’ success, just look at the renovations to the Warriors’ defense. Under the leadership of fitness coach Alex Corvo, the team gave up 100 fewer points than they did in the 2017 season. David Fusitu’a was New Zealand’s best player this year, matching the club record set in 2003. The team’s captain, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, also had an exceptional year, winning the Simon Mannering Medal and being named the Warriors player-of-the-year.

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How Does This Compare to the Team’s History Over the Past Seven Seasons?

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 29: Anthony Gelling of the Warriors celebrates after scoring a try during the round 16 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Cronulla Sharks at Mt Smart Stadium on June 29, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Here are some key points to keep in mind about the Warriors’ 2011 and 2018 finals runs:

  • In 2011, the Warriors began the season with three losses. They then advanced into the season with two notable wins: a victory over the Storm on Anzac Day and a solid 48-16 win over the Souths.
  • The Warriors won three of their four final games leading into the 2011 playoffs.
  • They beat the Tigers 22-20, barely advancing past the first elimination round.
  • The Warriors went on to the grand final, losing 24-10 to the Sea Eagles.

What Will Happen in 2019 for the Warriors?

The Warriors demonstrated this year that they have what it takes to make it to the finals, with players like winger David Fusitu’a and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Scheck having excellent seasons as league-topping scorers and runners, respectively. The Warriors also demonstrated that their squad, despite the criticism that they’ve received since the last time they went to the finals in 2011, does have what it takes to be a serious contender in this league.

Indeed, fans who have watched the Warriors perform over the last six seasons were frustrated because the team has had a quality roster. Needless to say, they’re happy to once again see their favorite team making a run past the regular season. Hopefully, for the 2019 season, they will again make it the finals but last through more elimination rounds than they did in 2018.