2016 NRL Season Preview: New Zealand Warriors

Final Ladder Position 2015: 13th

The New Zealand Warriors were having a reasonably successful 2015 season for most of the year with exciting young talent like Solomone Kata and Tuimoala Lolohea making their mark in first grade.

Sitting at 4th position on the ladder at the end of Round 18 they looked likely to return to the finals for the first time since 2011. Two rounds later though star halfback Shaun Johnson suffered a season ending ankle injury and it was all downhill for the Warriors from there, losing eight straight games to finish the 2015 season in 13th position.

For 2016 the Warriors will be looking to find a consistency to their performances that has eluded them over the past few seasons. Their star signings of Kiwi internationals Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke will certainly help but also other strategic signings like the experience and steady hand of Jeff Robson in the halves providing a consistent base for Johnson and the Warriors to work off.

Simon Mannering has also stepped down as Warriors captain and Ryan Hoffman has taken over the job. This shift in leadership can free up Mannering to focus purely on footy and Hoffman may provide a more vocal style of leadership and pulling people into line when the going gets tough.

One problem facing the Warriors may be buying too much into their own hype. There’s a mountain of expectations from fans and the club itself that they’re almost certainties for the Top 4 with the roster they have. If they simply assume it will happen without laying the ground work of developing a consistent game it could see them fall below expectations and crumble under pressure which would hardly be a foreign feeling to Warriors fans.

Key Players

Issac Luke- Luke’s greatest asset he can potentially bring to the Warriors is a change in attitude and a shift in team culture. He’s tough and he’s competitive who leads by example with vigour on the field which sets an example for his team-mates to follow. That gritty determination Luke has is not a quality that’s been sighted too often in the Warriors in seasons past.

Shaun Johnson- Johnson is the crux of the team. He possesses an attacking flair that can cut opposition defences to shreds with lightning fast pace and a dazzling step with his kicking game and excellent support play creating try scoring opportunities for both himself and his team-mates. The Warriors are at their best when Johnson’s at his best, if he fires they fire. Week to week consistency is all he needs to do to become the consummate halfback.

Johnson showed at the Auckland 9’s that his ankle injury doesn’t look to have affected his pace or stepping ability to any great degree which is a very positive sign for the Warriors ahead of the 2016 season.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck- RTS had a remarkable first season at fullback for the Roosters last year. Running for well over 200m just about every game, breaking tackle after tackle and displaying some solid ball playing skills, he exceeded above even the highest expectations of what he could do in his first full run at fullback. If he can replicate that form on a consistent basis for the Warriors he and Johnson could form the most lethal attacking partnership in the NRL.

‘If’ is the key word though. He didn’t quite produce the exciting highlight reel that many may have been expecting at the 9’s and adjusting to a new team structure could take a while but there’s little doubt that RTS could be the best signing in the club’s history.

Likely Round-1 Lineup
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. David Fusitua/Tuimoala Lolohea
3. Konrad Hurrell/Tuimoala Lolohea/Blake Ayshford
4. Solomone Kata
5. Manu Vatuvei
6. Jeff Robson
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Jacob Lillyman
9. Issac Luke
10. Ben Matulino
11. Ryan Hoffman
12. Bodene Thompson
13. Simon Mannering
14. Ben Henry
15. Sam Lisione
16. Albert Vete
17. Thomas Leuluai

Story of 2016

The ultimate feel good story for the Warriors in 2016 would be for them to capture their maiden NRL premiership. It’d be a monumental event in New Zealand Rugby League and a great advertisement for the game of Rugby League in general to see a team based outside of Australia win a premiership. It could also lead to potential growth and increased interest in the sport in New Zealand.

They have the roster and talent to do it but it’s all a matter of how hard they work towards matching the results on field with the expectations off-field.

Predictions
Ladder: To make the Top 8. 6th
Predicted Top Tryscorer: Manu Vatuvei
Predicted Top Pointscorer: Shaun Johnson
Predicted Player of the Year: Issac Luke

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