Warriors 2016 season review
The good news is that the Warriors have found something they are consistent at, the bad news is that it's dreadful late-season collapses which result in them missing the finals.
For a fifth-straight year the Kiwi club fell short of being in the top half of the competition, despite having a roster which many tipped could challenge for overall honours in the NRL Telstra Premiership. It was also the fourth time since 2011 that the Warriors have lost three or more of their final four games in the season.
A mid-year revival between Rounds 13-22 – a period in which they didn't lose a single game in regulation time – gave the club's embattled fans some hope, but it was all in vain as coach Andrew McFadden's team saved their worst for last once again.
Where they excelled: Creating attacking opportunities all over the field wasn't an issue in 2016 for the Warriors. With a well-balanced combination of power and footwork in their forward pack, and some genuine pace through the spine and outside backs, the Kiwi side were able to make plenty of ground from second-phase play. They finished the year behind only the Raiders for the most line breaks made in the comp, averaging 4.9 per match. While their work getting to the attacking 20 was good, converting from there proved an issue and meant much of their positive field positioning went unrewarded.
Where they struggled: Addressing and reducing individual errors and lapses in concentration. Those factors dogged them from day one right up until the dying minutes of their final game against Parramatta, and were a leading cause for a number of losses according to McFadden. As a team they only averaged 9.4 errors per game and sat 10th in the NRL in that category – for some context top-eight sides the Sharks and Panthers both finished the regular season with more – but it was mistakes in the wrong parts of the field, at the wrong times in games, which really cost them.
Missing in action: The Warriors got only seven games out of star recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, with the Kiwi international suffering a season-ending ACL tear. With a lack of another established No.1 in their squad, the Warriors missed his presence dearly, with Tuimoala Lolohea and David Fusitu'a both experiencing mixed fortunes in the position. The loss of Ben Henry (broken kneecap) in Round 1 and Sione Lousi (ACL) in Round 9 put pressure on forward stocks, forcing McFadden to call on the likes of rookies Toafofoa Sipley and Bunty Afoa.
Turning point: It all started falling apart in the Round 23 clash against South Sydney. The Warriors were torn to pieces by the accurate kicking of Adam Reynolds and pace of the Rabbitohs' backline in an eventual 41-22 loss, and they never recovered from it, losing their next three to finish the season. Up until that point they had full control of their own destiny in eighth position, and were projected to make a strong run home.
Hold your head high: Playing just his second season of first-grade football, centre Solomone Kata was among the Warriors' best each week. His attacking stats stand out, having led the club in tries scored with 15, while averaging 116 metres and making a team-high 15 line breaks. But it was his efforts to tighten up the Warriors' left edge defensively that were most impressive, and not many opposite numbers got the better of him through 2016.
As usual veteran lock Simon Mannering was superb as well, finishing second in the NRL for tackles made (averaging 47.3 per game). Halfback Shaun Johnson deserves some praise too. He led the entire competition in general play kicking, finished fourth-equal in the NRL for try assists with 18, and played every single game in his first season back from a serious ankle injury.
2017 crystal ball: For the first time since 2010 the Warriors won't go into a new season with a heavy turnover of talent, with standoff Thomas Leuluai the only significant NRL departure at this stage. That increased stability can only be a positive, but it's hard to endorse this roster after how they performed this year.
Much intrigue surrounds the future of Kiwi playmaker Kieran Foran, with Mt Smart Stadium emerging as his likely destination, and his presence would certainly change the expectations which will accompany the Warriors in 2017.
Conclusion: There is no avoiding the fact that this year has been a massive missed opportunity for the Warriors. They had the roster to make the top eight, and were in position to achieve it with a month to go. Their major shortcomings as a squad remained behind the smokescreen of a mid-year purple patch, and in the end they went down without a whimper in losing four in a row to the Rabbitohs, Cowboys, Tigers and Eels.
Transforming the culture of a club from a losing one to a winning one is a huge job, but something that McFadden will have to nail if he is kept around as head coach for 2017. The key performance indicators will centre on making the finals, and there no doubt this is a team who should achieve that next year.
Home Record: 6-6
Away Record: 4-8
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Round 13-15)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 (Round 23-26)
Players Used: 34
Tries Scored: 90
Tries Conceded: 101