Warriors season preview
The Warriors looked set to qualify for their first finals series since 2011 last season, before disaster struck and they lost their last eight matches in a row to finish 13th. But the arrival of Kiwi golden boys Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke has Warriors fans pumped up for the season and brought a new cause for optimism in Auckland, and this season they are expected to be among the Telstra Premiership's most competitive teams.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters), Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ligi Sao (Manly Sea Eagles), Blake Ayshford (Cronulla Sharks), Henare Wells (Burleigh Bears), Jeff Robson (Cronulla Sharks), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Melbourne Storm), Ali Lauitiiti (Wakefield Wildcats)
Losses: Nathan Friend (Gold Coast Titans), Siliva Havili (St George Illawarra Dragons), Nathaniel Peteru (Gold Coast Titans), Dominique Peyroux (St Helens RLFC), Sam Rapira (Huddersfield Giants), Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks), Sebastine Ikahihifo (St George Illawarra Dragons), Bradley Abbey (Canterbury Bulldogs), Glen Fisiiahi (rugby union), David Bhana (Newcastle Knights), Ngani Laumape (rugby union)
A big year of spending sees Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke bring some more international class to an already quality Warriors' spine, while 12-season veteran Jeff Robson could prove the ideal partner in crime for Shaun Johnson in the halves and offsets the loss of Chad Townsend. The squad also loses some valuable on-field leadership with veteran hooker Nathan Friend departing to the Gold Coast.
What we know
The roster is among the best in the competition, with no fewer than 10 players having represented either New Zealand or their state in 2015. But that doesn't guarantee instant success, and with a new fullback, five-eighth and hooker the Warriors are likely to have some issues with attacking cohesion through the opening rounds. Scoring points wasn't an issue for the New Zealand side for most of last year, but an inability to reduce errors and stop teams at the other end cost them a number of victories in close encounters.
Where does young Kiwi international Tuimoala Lolohea fit into the mix? Too talented to leave out of the 17, Lolohea may have to bide his time in the centres or even on the wing with the halves and fullback positions well covered this year. The other big question is around whether or not the Warriors can improve on the basic areas of the game which dogged them all through 2015. The Kiwi side finished last season with the third-highest error rate in the NRL, averaging 11 per game, while also completing at just 73 per cent on average – the third worst in the competition. Repeat those types of negative numbers and it won't matter how talented their squad is, they won't play finals football.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad can play anywhere in the back five or halves, making him a valuable asset for the Warriors. He arrives from Melbourne having starred in the Storm's under-20 team and hasn't looked out of place playing for the NRL and NSW Cup squads through the trials. With Thomas Leuluai having a number of injury struggles over the last couple of seasons 19-year-old hooker Nathaniel Roache may also feature in the NRL side at some point. Fleet-footed with good vision on the ball, Roache was a standout for the Warriors at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines earlier this year.
The Warriors have excellent depth in the back row, with talented local juniors such as Raymond Faitala-Mariner and John Palavi joining tried-and-tested campaigners Sione Lousi and Ali Lauitiiti as quality back-up options to the starting three. That's not the case for the entire forward pack however, and aside from Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman the Warriors have little experience in the front row. Sam Lisone, Albert Vete and Charlie Gubb are all good prospects, but have less than 100 Telstra Premiership games between them. Off-season recruitment has added some much-needed competition in the centres and halves, with the likes of Blake Ayshford and Robson sure to keep everyone on their toes.
Simon Mannering ($535,000) was the highest-scoring Fantasy player in the competition last year – averaging 59.8 – and is sure to be up there again thanks to the base stats he gains from his whopping tackle counts. His starting spot is secure and he will play 80 minutes most weeks, making him a strong Fantasy captain option as well. Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are other Warriors who are likely to be among the top scorers for their positions, thanks to their high involvement and tendency to collect bulk points via pieces of individual brilliance in games. Both are quality pick-ups but come with hefty $477,000 and $505,000 price tags respectively.
Andrew McFadden heads into 2016 under more pressure than any other coach, due to a combination of the impressive squad he has compiled and the fact that his side collapsed in spectacular fashion late last year to miss the play-offs. McFadden has made a number of positive changes in his almost two years as head coach and is well liked by the playing group at Mt Smart Stadium, but that will count for nothing if the team are struggling come the halfway point of the season.
The Warriors have oozed potential for a number of years now and have recruited better than most for 2016. But that doesn't mean they will instantly become a top-four side, and they still lack consistent and experienced performers in the centres which will leave them susceptible to leaking points down the edges. If they don't make the eight something will have gone terribly wrong, but don't expect them to cruise through to the play-offs as many are expecting.