New Zealand Warriors: Season Review

Regular Season
WINS: 7
LOSSES: 15
DRAWS: 2
POSITION: 14th
HOME RECORD: 5 wins, 7 losses (=13th)
AWAY RECORD: 2 wins, 8 losses, 2 draws (14th)

After Finals
Did Not Qualify

BEST WINNING STREAK: 2 (rounds 1-2)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 3 (rounds 3-5 and 8-11)
PLAYERS USED: 29 (8 debutants)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Micheal Luck
TRIES SCORED (after 26 rounds): 69 (15th)
TRIES CONCEDED (after 26 rounds): 101 (=2nd fewest)

What was expected to be a massive year from the Warriors instead turned into one of frustration.

By far the biggest letdowns of the competition in 2009, the Kiwi side began the season with consecutive wins and had even their toughest critics predicting a top-four finish – but their joy quickly turned to despair as their season nose-dived.

It all began to unravel in Round 3.

A 26-10 loss at home to Brisbane was compounded by a season-ending knee injury to star centre Brent Tate, with the Warriors embarking on a three-game losing streak that would epitomise their year.

Never again did they threaten the top eight.

Central to the side’s woes was the struggle to score points – even with the return from retirement of veteran halfback Stacey Jones.

Despite engineering a remarkable win over defending premiers Manly at Brookvale Oval in Round 2, the 33-year-old looked his age for much of the year and wasn’t helped by a revolving door of halves partners. Incredibly, the Warriors released both Michael Witt (rugby union) and Nathan Fien (St George Illawarra) mid-season while Joel Moon, Lance Hohaia and rookies Isaac John and Aaron Heremaia were all tried in the no.6 jersey.

Injuries didn’t help – captain Steve Price barely featured after the State of Origin series and a whopping eight players made their NRL debuts – but the club won’t accept any excuses for their 14th-place finish.

The Warriors’ final game summed up their season. Determined to farewell Jones in style on home soil, the one-time entertainers of the NRL failed to score a point in falling 30-0 to the Melbourne Storm.

Where They Excelled…
The Warriors would be pleased with the efforts of some of their 2009 debutants after they were thrown in the deep end.

Five-eighth Aaron Heremaia was handed his opportunity late in the year and showed plenty of spark, while hooker Lewis Brown is tipped for big things in the coming years.

But none were better than speedster Kevin Locke, who scored two tries on debut against the Wests Tigers and showed maturity beyond his years. 

Where They Struggled… For the first time in their 15-year history the Warriors struggled to cross the tryline. They have often been accused of lacking discipline and consistency but never of being boring – until now.

That they ranked 15th in the NRL in attack with a miserly 69 tries is unfathomable.

So much did they struggle that by the end of the season their fifth-tackle option became as predictable as sunset – Jones kicking cross-field for Vatuvei to collect.

Missing In Action… Brent Tate’s knee injury suffered in Round 3 was a debilitating blow to the club following the departure of veterans Ruben Wiki, Logan Swann and Wairangi Koopu in the off-season.

Tate was highly sought after by the Warriors two years ago for both his experience and strike power out wide and his presence was sorely missed.

It’s also difficult to tell what impact the tragic death of young gun Sonny Fai in the pre-season had on the squad as a whole. But our guess is it was telling.

Turning Point… The Warriors’ 26-10 loss to Brisbane in Round 3 was the beginning of the end.

Having won their opening two games against Parramatta and Manly, the Warriors proceeded to lose their next three and win just one of their next eight.

The loss of Brent Tate for the season against the Broncos was also a debilitating blow.

Best Games… It took just two weeks for the Warriors and Manly to produce one of the games of the year at Brookvale Oval, with Stacey Jones setting up two late tries to score a last-minute 26-24 upset win over the defending premiers.

The Warriors looked like world-beaters at times in that game. Down 10-0 early, they hit back with three tries in just five minutes to take a 16-10 lead into the break. Then, after Manly had surged to lead 24-16 with 11 minutes remaining, Jones produced two sparkling pieces of play to secure a stunning win.

The first saw him turn back the clock with a brilliant chip-and-chase effort to send Brent Tate over, before he launched a late bomb that fell into the hands of Jerome Ropati to score.

At that stage, nobody could have predicted that it would all fall apart just a week later.

Worst Games… The Warriors saved their worst until last.

On an afternoon that should have provided fond memories for departing legend Stacey Jones, the Warriors failed to score a point, rarely threatened the tryline and conceded 30 in a forgettable outing at Mt Smart Stadium in front of more than 14,000 fans.

Hold Your Head High… Micheal Luck. One of the quiet achievers of the NRL, Luck is also one if its most tireless workhorses. The stand-in Warriors captain has developed a reputation as a tacking machine and was again at his hard-hitting best in 2009 – even if the side as a whole struggled.

Incredibly, Luck pulled off an NRL-record 74 tackles in the Warriors’ Round 7 draw with Melbourne at Olympic Park and topped the competition tackle count for the year with 1053.

Coach Ivan Cleary Says… “It wasn’t the season we were expecting. We focused pretty hard on getting off to a good start but some big injuries hurt us and we lost our way. We lost five of our best players in the first three weeks for extended periods.

“Expectation proved to be a burden for us, too. We played well for a few games without winning and I think that added to our negative mindset. I guess it doesn’t take much for the scales to tip one way or the other.

“By the end of the year we had lost all confidence – we didn’t have much by the end of it.”

Conclusion…
It’s back to the drawing board for the Warriors after a season of epic failure, given the expectations that were placed upon them. Injuries may have played a role but either way a 14th-place finish isn’t acceptable for a club boasting the likes of Steve Price, Wade McKinnon, Manu Vatuvei, Jerome Ropati, Lance Hohaia and Simon Mannering.