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2021 New Zealand Warriors Team Review

Brad Inger reviews the New Zealand Warriors less than stellar 2021 season, which saw the team spend its second straight season away from home.

2021 Club Record

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Wins: 8
Losses: 16
Competition Points: 18

2021 Player Achievements

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Most Tries: Reece Walsh (9)
Most Points: Kodi Nikorima (100)

Season Summary

Before the season even kicked off, Warriors fans were dealt a deadly one-two punch when they were told that their team would be staying on Australian soil for the entire season. They also knew inspirational captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was set to leave the club to take up a contract in New Zealand playing rugby union. Not the best way to start the campaign, however, fans remained hopeful that a return to the top eight would still be on the cards after beefing up their forward pack with Tongan representatives Addin Fonua-Blake and Ben Murdoch-Masila.

The Warriors struggled with injuries, having no player manage to appear in every game of the season. With constant changes to their day game 17, they lacked cohesion which showed in their performances, alternating between wins and losses.

The Warriors season appeared to be over when they went on a six-game losing streak from round 14 to round 19 which included a demoralising 60-22 defeat against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. They managed to go on a three-game winning streak in rounds 20, 21 and 22 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The final three rounds saw the Warriors fall out of the playoff race with their year ending on a sour note, losing 44-0 to the Gold Coast Titans. It will be a game that will be more remembered for the constant brain snaps and fights by a Warriors side that looked to be mentally over the long season.

As much as they tried to focus on performing on the field, the situation of living in Australia for the second year in a row was always a topic of conversation. Stories of players having to move their children to multiple schools throughout the season when the team was moved from location to location showed some of the team’s struggles behind closed doors. To their credit, the team did not use their situation as an excuse for their poor season, but it’s no coincidence that the Warriors season took a dive after their sellout return to Mount Smart in Auckland was cancelled.

2022 looks to be their third year away from home, but a decision to not come back to New Zealand at Christmas has been made to ensure the team is better prepared for the new season.

While the season was full of disappointing efforts, Warriors fans saw several players step up and show that the future is bright. Leading the conversation was midseason recruit Reece Walsh: the young fullback came into the Warriors with the tall task of replacing Tuivasa-Sheck, and he did not disappoint. He ended his first season in the NRL as the Warriors leading try scorer and had a season full of highlight-reel moments. While the New Zealand side has lost one of their greats, they have got themselves a bona fide star in the making, providing he keeps his nose clean off the field.

Star signing Fonua-Blake and midseason recruit Matt Lodge improved the Warriors forward pack tenfold, and along with the 2021 Simon Mannering Medallist Tohu Harris, they made the New Zealand side more competitive up the middle. Keeping these three players healthy and on the park are vital to the Warriors playoff aspirations.

2021 did not go the way the Warriors or their fans wanted, and it’s back to the drawing board for 2022. The return of prodigal son Shaun Johnson will give Warriors supporters plenty to be excited about. The thought of Johnson and Walsh combining just screams points. A top-eight spot is a realistic goal if the Warriors can keep their squad out of the casualty ward.

NothingButLeague Player of the Season – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

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Matches: 17
Tries: 4
Try Assists: 8
Run Metres: 3,054
Tackle Bursts: 71

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