After the much-publicised exit of their star playmaker, all eyes will be on the Warriors as they start their post-Shaun Johnson era.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Signings: Leeson Ah Mau (St George-Illawarra Dragons, 2021), Taane Milne (Wests Tigers, 2021), Lachlan Burr (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2020), Adam Keighran (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Jackson Frei (Sydney Roosters, 2019)
Departures: Manaia Cherrington (released), James Gavet (Newcastle Knights), Anthony Gelling (Widnes Vikings), Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks), Mason Lino (Newcastle Knights), Simon Mannering (retired), Zac Santo (Released), Albert Vete (Melbourne Storm), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Canberra Raiders)
First Five: Bulldogs (H), Wests Tigers (A), Sea Eagles (A), Titans (H), Rabbitohs (A)
WHAT TO EXPECT
After ending their six-year playoff drought in 2018, the Warriors will target a top eight spot in 2019, despite the questionable depth in crucial positions.
The Warriors’ most significant improvement in 2018 was their fitness, and with head trainer Alex Corvo leading the way again the Warriors look to be in excellent condition in 2019.
With a star-studded backline and a forward pack boasting added size, the Warriors have the potential to go deep into the playoffs.
The question remains if the Warriors can continue their 2018 form without a marquee halfback signing to replace Johnson.
The Warriors’ recruitment for 2019 has left a lot to be desired, with the only notable signing being Leeson Ah Mau.
Fringe player Lachlan Burr has moved across the ditch in a bid to get more first grade minutes and adds legitimate size to the Warriors’ pack.
Disgraced centre Taane Milne has received a lifeline from the Warriors; he was released by the Wests Tigers after a second positive drug test and will be looking for redemption.
Adam Keighran can play regular first grade with Johnson’s exit, and I believe his renowned goal kicking prowess will help to push his nose in front as the favourite to start alongside Blake Green in round one.
The Warriors have yet to use the money left in the salary cap after Johnson’s exit, and this gives them an edge in obtaining any players that may need to be moved on due to cap pressures at other clubs, and you can expect some movement before June.
With the exit of Johnson and Simon Mannering, the Warriors will be leaning on Dally M Medallist Roger Tuivasa-Sheck even more to guide them to success this season.
Roger will be looking to build on his impressive 2018 form that saw him become the first Warrior to become a Dally M Medallist; he’s part of one of the best back three combinations in the NRL, partnered with Ken Maumalo and the NRL’s leading try scorer David Fusitu’a.
The Warriors will continue to direct their attack to the right edge so you can expect Fusitu’a to be in the running for leading try scorer once again.
The centre stocks boast international representatives with Solomone Kata, Peta Hiku, Gerard Beale and Milne all fighting for the starting spots.
This explosive backline will be of no use if the Warriors forward pack do not do their part – with the addition of Ah Mau and Burr, the pack has increased in size considerably; their inclusion to the prop rotation will guarantee the halves have ample time to create scoring opportunities.
Green has a lot of pressure on him this season, partnered with a rookie halfback; he will be expected to take full control of the team and organise the attack.
It appears that the Warriors are confident that he can shoulder that responsibility for this season’s campaign, but I expect to see Tuivasa-Sheck increase his playmaking role in 2019.
Isaiah Papali’i has big boots to fill, taking over from club legend Mannering. After a breakout 2018, Papali’i appears to have the potential to take control of the lock position long term.
Depth in the squad is adequate, but the depth in the spine is where most Warriors fans will have their concerns, any injuries to Green or Tuivasa-Sheck during the season could derail the whole campaign.
Warriors fans can expect a strong start to the season, with four of the first five matches being against teams that failed to make the top eight in 2018.
No game is ever easy in the NRL, but the Warriors will need to capitalise on spending four of the first six rounds playing on New Zealand soil.
The rest of the Warriors’ draw is tough, facing the Storm, Rabbitohs, Panthers and Broncos twice.
The Warriors were one of the best in 2018 when it came to winning away from home, and they will need to continue that trend if they want to have any chance of playing finals football.
If the 2019 season is as close as 2018 was, the final month of the season could be the deciding factor for the New Zealand club with three out of the final four matches in Australia, including starting that last month against title favourites the Roosters in Sydney in round 22.
Providing the Warriors stay injury-free, this is a top-eight side, and I see them sitting seventh at the end of round 25.
Top Try Scorer: David Fusitu’a
Top Point Scorer: Adam Keighran
Club Player of the Year: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
WHERE WILL THE NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS FINISH IN 2019?