Of all teams who struggled through 2020, no other side came close to the sacrifice and hardship that was upon the Warriors.
Yes, everyone has acknowledged their sacrifice to enable the season to be contested. None will know the actual price that was paid other than the players, staff and their families.
Let’s hope COVID-19 can be kept under control or a vaccine can be distributed in time to enable the Warriors to be able to play from home in New Zealand in 2021.
After agreeing to stay indefinitely in Australia, the Warriors lost head coach Stephen Kearney. Cruelly sacked and replaced by his assistant Todd Payten as interim coach for the remainder of 2020. Some players returned home for personal reasons and all looked lost.
Amazingly, the boys from Auckland managed to complete the season, finishing a very respectable 10th and at one stage within calculation of making the finals late on.
Sadly, interim coach Todd Payten declined the full time job offer and has since taken the vacant head coach role at the Cowboys for 2021. He did a remarkable job in keeping his squad focused in very challenging circumstances.
Former Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has replaced Payten for the 2021 season. The job will have its difficulties regardless if it is based in New Zealand or Australia. However, Brown has proven he has the ability as a coach to drive a club and implement change.
New Signings Addin Fonua-Blake, Kane Evans and Ben Murdoch-Masila will strengthen the forward pack led last year by Tohu Harris and young guns Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Eli Katoa.
Returning from injury and self exclusion are David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo. Both try-scoring machines who start the Warriors' sets off with great effectiveness.
Joining them this year are experienced centre Euan Aitken from St George Illawarra and Marcelo Montoya from the Bulldogs. These new signings will fill out the Warriors backline with the sensational Roger Tuivasa-Sheck chiming in from Fullback.
The Warriors will need to settle on a halves combination. The addition of Sean O’ Sullivan from Brisbane will put pressure on both Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Nikorima’s Brother, Jayden, has signed a train and trial deal with the club. Once a valued prospect, Jayden lost his way for a few years. He is now back and been given an opportunity to prove himself.
Hopefully Brown can have patience with Harris-Tavita as he has shown great potential. For a small man he has an appetite for defence and if he can harness his attacking game he should be the No.7 for many years to come.
Jazz Tevaga would be my choice at hooker, with Wayde Egan as his back up. Alternatively Kodi Nikorima could be used as the starting or bench player to play dummy half.
If the Warriors have to relocate to Australia for part of or all of 2021, I am not sure the players could respond as well as they did in 2020. It is far too difficult to expect them to leave families and homes for a second straight season.
If they can play out the season as normal they have a squad that can be very competitive. They have recruited well and have a good coach in Nathan Brown.
I personally think they are one or two classy players away from being a front runner. Again much of the load will be on fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
A top-eight finish is definitely on the cards if everything lines up for them on 2021. Nathan Brown will hopefully be given time and support to stamp his authority on the club.
Most of all the Warriors will need COVID-19 not to impede on the 2021 season. In saying that, there are more important things at play than Rugby League. Let’s hope COVID-19 is under control and vaccines are applied as soon as possible, in a bid to end what has been so deadly for so many and put our brave front line workers at risk.