ONE of the surprise packets of the 2010 season after storming home in the back half of the season to finish fifth in the home and away rounds, the Warriors head into the New Year full of optimism about what the coming months may hold.
A spending splurge prompted by the retirement of veteran prop Steve Price will see high-profile recruits Feleti Mateo and Krisnan Inu join the club this season while former Queensland and Australian utility Shaun Berrigan returns from a two-year stint with Hull in England to bolster the playmaking ranks.
Inevitably, the Warriors remain somewhat of an unknown quantity.
Typically slow starters, they must find greater consistency if they are to compete with the big boys in 2010 and the loss of Price as well as Kangaroos centre Brent Tate can’t be taken lightly.
However, the club’s emerging leaders – Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Jerome Ropati and Sam Rapira – were superb when Price was sidelined through injury last year and are the men who can lead the charge yet again in 2011.
Last year’s early exit from the finals may have masked just how far the Warriors have come in the past 12 months; rest assured they loom as one of the NRL’s genuine danger sides.
How They’ll Play It… The Warriors have always boasted a fearsome forward pack, but inevitably it is their ability to promote the football that has determined their fate from year to year. At their best they off-load mercilessly – allowing the likes of Lance Hohaia (91 tackle-breaks in 2010) and James Maloney (14 try assists) to wreak havoc up the middle.
That aside, however, the Warriors heavily favour their left edge where Jerome Ropati and Manu Vatuvei await to punish unwary defenders. The pair scored 27 tries between them in 2010.
Expect Plenty From… Brett Seymour. The former Brisbane and Cronulla playmaker missed 12 games last season with thumb and leg injuries but was impressive when available and formed an exciting partnership in the halves with up-and-coming five-eighth James Maloney. Seymour produced 12 try assists and four line-break assists in his 13 games in 2010.
They’re Going to Really Miss… Brent Tate. The veteran centre was the Warriors’ strike weapon on the right edge (73 tackle-breaks and 35 offloads) and a real leader among the side’s younger backs. He has departed for North Queensland (and has since suffered a season-ending knee injury) with former Eel Krisnan Inu – who has struggled to find his best form in recent seasons – taking his place.
Time To Stand Up… Feleti Mateo. The Warriors’ biggest signing heading into 2011 is a prodigious talent and a match-winner in his own right with his ability to break the line (68 busts in 2010) and lethal offloads (72). However, he has a habit of drifting in and out of games and his impact was negligible for Parramatta during their difficult 2010 season.
Exactly which Feleti Mateo turns out for the Warriors this year remains to be seen but if he is at his best he could well become their most important player.
Coach Watch… Under some pressure this time last year, the Warriors’ return to form in 2010 has seemingly secured Ivan Cleary’s tenure at the club for some time to come (barring complete disaster).
Entering his sixth season in charge, Cleary showed that he has both foresight and the courage of his convictions when he controversially gave Simon Mannering the club captaincy in 2010 in place of Price. As it turned out, injury sidelined Price for the entire season while Mannering slotted perfectly into his new role.
They’ll Be Boosted By… The arrival of former Broncos utility Shaun Berrigan. The Warriors have always struggled for depth in the playmaking positions but Berrigan, who has played 13 games for both Australia and Queensland, will provide more options alongside hooker Aaron Heremaia and halves Seymour and Maloney.
Predicted Finish … 4th.
Toyota Cup… The Warriors celebrated a famous win over South Sydney in last year’s Toyota Cup grand final but the task will be more difficult this year with a number of players – including Elijah Taylor, Matt Robinson, Shaun Johnson and Glen Fisiiahi – promoted to the NRL squad in 2011.
However, seven members of last year’s grand final side remain and coach John Ackland fully expects his brigade to be among the front-runners again this season. More importantly, watch for the fruits of last year’s labour to pay dividends in first grade as players break through.
Gains… Krisnan Inu (Eels), Feleti Mateo (Eels), Steve Rapira (Cowboys), Shaun Berrigan (Hull FC).
Losses… Patrick Ah Van (Bradford), Ian Henderson (Les Catalans), Mark Ioane (Raiders), Siuatonga Likiliki (Knights), Elijah Niko (Storm), Steve Price (retired), Jesse Royal (retired), Nafe Seluini (Panthers), Brent Tate (Cowboys).