Mid-Season Review: New Zealand Warriors

Position after 13 rounds: 11th
Wins: 5
Losses: 7
Byes: 1
Points: 12
Differential: -63


A season that promised much – or at the very least considerable improvement – hasn’t quite hit the heights that coach Ivan Cleary had imagined.

The Warriors have been impressive at times and underwhelming at others, a shocking run of injuries to key players ultimately preventing them from gaining any real momentum. Already this season captain Simon Mannering, Micheal Luck, Manu Vatuvei and Brett Seymour have spent considerable time on the sidelines (27 between them). Steve Price hasn’t been seen at all. And over the past three weeks they have lost in-form prop Sam Rapira and star centre Brent Tate.

It is to the Warriors’ credit that, despite this, they remain just two points outside top eight. Their season has included solid wins over Brisbane, Canterbury and South Sydney and when it has all clicked they’ve looked capable matching it with the best.

Last week they were unlucky not to topple competition leaders St George Illawarra in a thriller.

But when they’re off, they are very much on the nose, having conceded 40 points or more in losses to Penrith, Melbourne and Wests Tigers. They remain a side with potential but desperately need all the players fit if they are any chance of featuring come September.

Are Things Going To Plan? Sort of. Of course, injuries are never in a coach’s plans – even though they remain ever-present in rugby league. But their key off-season recruitments have shown plenty of potential.

The Warriors took a risk in signing a brand new halves pairing in 2010, with troubled soul Brett Seymour arriving from Cronulla and unheralded James Maloney joining from Melbourne. And although Seymour has played just three games because of thumb and leg injuries, the pair have provided the side with much-needed direction in their limited time together.

Maloney has been particularly impressive. The 23-year-old had played just four games in the top grade when he landed late last year but has since made the no.7 jersey his own.

Still, it’s difficult to account for such a devastating injury toll in pre-season planning and Cleary has had trouble eking any form of consistency from his side as a result.

Injury Front… What was supposed to double as a farewell tour for veteran prop Steve Price has instead seen him spend the entire first half of the season on the sidelines. Price has been troubled by a nagging heel problem that has flared up on at least three occasions when he has looked on track for a return. When and whether he does return remains a mystery… even to him.

In fact, the front row is becoming a real problem area for the Warriors, with Sam Rapira damaging ligaments in his knee against South Sydney three weeks ago. Rapira had been the club’s most consistent player in 2010, averaging 110 metres and 30 tackles per game, and the Warriors have lost both games in his absence.

Former Queensland Origin stars Brent Tate and Jacob Lillyman also remain on the injured list. Tate broke his jaw against the Dragons last week and is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks, while Lillyman has a knee injury and will miss another few weeks.

It’s not an injury, but the Warriors could have done with more from deposed fullback Wade McKinnon, who averaged just 86 metres in his six games before being release to join the Wests Tigers in late May.

If Only…
The Warriors had upset St George Illawarra last weekend. Despite dominating the stats and grabbing an early 8-0 lead, the Warriors couldn’t finish the job and ended up falling 22-20 in a thrilling encounter.

Although a crucial Dragons try came from a blatant forward pass, the Warriors paid a heavy price for failing to capitalise on their opportunities. More importantly, they missed a chance to gain a much-needed confidence boost heading into the second half of the season.

Who’s Flying… Lance Hohaia has been a constant performer since taking over the fullback spot full-time this season. Finally given his chance to nail down a single position, Hohaia has taken on a far more dominant role with the Warriors in 2010 – chiming into the line on a regular basis and challenging the defensive line with his speed and ball skills.

So far this year he has averaged 104 metres per game as well as providing three try assists, five line-breaks and 41 tackle busts. As it turns out, he is also the only Warrior to have played every minute.

Needs To Lift…
Captain Simon Mannering was controversially handed the Warriors’ captaincy this season and although a hamstring injury has held him back, it’s time he stood up and led from the front. At his best, Mannering is a damaging wide ball-runner capable of breaking the tackle as well as running some tremendous lines – this year he has struggled to make an impact.

The stats say it all. In 2009, Mannering averaged 101 metres per game in 23 appearances but that figure has dropped way down to just 59 metres per game this season. His team-mates need him to lead the way.

Coach Ivan Cleary Tells NRL.com…
“In terms of the points table we’d like to be higher up but we’ve had a little bit of adversity – we haven’t been able to put our best side on the field and that’s not even taking ‘Pricey’ into account.

“It just seems that we’ve had two blokes missing for large periods and if we get one back we lose someone else. What we have got, though, are our younger players being exposed a little bit more than they’re ideally ready for and they’ve really stood up.

“That’s a good sign for the rest of the year, when we’ll hopefully have some guys coming back.”

Predicted Finish…
The Warriors are among a pack of sides battling to fill the bottom four spots in the top eight.

It could be a long year, however, if they don’t get their key players back. On current form, a finals finish appears to be a bridge too far. They are likely to waver around their current 11th spot.

Under-20s… The Warriors’ youngsters are one of the in-form sides in the competition, having gradually moved up from 13th spot after four rounds to sit in eighth spot at the halfway mark.

An early injury crisis didn’t help, but with all players now back on deck they produced a rare Toyota Cup feat last week by holding their opponents scoreless in a 19-0 win over St George Illawarra.