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New Zealand Warriors 2020 season preview

After a making return to finals football in 2018 the Warriors came crashing back to reality last year with a disappointing campaign which ended in a 13th-place finish.  

A paltry four competition points gained through the first two months of play meant they were chasing their tail for much of the year, while a handful of blowout losses on the run home killed off any hope of a late revival.

On paper, the roster hasn't improved from last year, but they'll be significantly boosted by the return of their best forward Tohu Harris, who missed the back half of 2019 through injury. 

Coach Stephen Kearney and the playing group have overhauled large parts of their game ahead of the new campaign, and with that comes hope that the tide might finally turn in Auckland.  

The 2019 outlook

What's new

Very little in terms of on-field talent. Former Penrith hooker Wayde Egan is the Warriors' lone off-season recruit and they have lost a bunch of experience following the departures of Issac Luke, Blake Ayshford and Ligi Sao. The big changes are in the football department, with former Wallabies strength and conditioning coach Craig Twentyman taking over from Alex Corvo as the club's head of performance and experienced NRL mentor Nathan Brown joining Kearney's staff as an assistant coach.

The draw

It's a mixed bag to start the year, with the Warriors facing 2019 playoff sides only twice in the first five weeks, before going straight into a tough three-game run which sees them take on the Roosters, Storm and Eels. They have a designated home match during in the Magic Round in Brisbane, and of their 11 games on New Zealand soil two are at alternative venues to Mount Smart Stadium.

Soward's Say: 2020 Warriors

The stat that gives you hope

The Warriors lost six games by seven points or less in 2019, proving that for all their faults they weren't far off. Between rounds 14 and 19 the Warriors were involved in six straight games where the difference on the scoreboard at full-time was four points or less, but they came away with a victory just twice during that period. If they can find a way to finish off the close ones this year then it's easy to see them jumping up the ladder.

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($738k) is among the elite scorers at winger/fullback while Jazz Tevaga ($727k) scored 58 points a game as a starter last year but is priced as a 48-point player. Tevaga will miss the opening rounds so is one to keep an eye on after that. Wayde Egan ($384k) is great value if he can hold on to the starting hooker spot for the opening six weeks at least.

The coach

The club's new outright owner Mark Robinson has said anything less than a top-eight finish in 2020 will put Kearney's job at risk, and while he's the only coach to take them to the finals since 2011 Kearney's win record sits at just 42 per cent and the heat is on. Should the Warriors decide to make a change, they've already positioned themselves a potential ready-made replacement in the shape of Brown.

Five key match-ups of the Warriors' 2020 draw

Contract matters

Twelve of the 29 players currently on the Warriors' roster – including front-line stars Blake Green, Isaiah Papali'i and Peta Hiku – have expiring contracts this year and the club looks set for an overhaul of talent. In particular, they are likely to chase the signatures of a couple of established forwards for 2020, putting pressure on the likes of off-contract back-rower Leivaha Pulu to impress early in the season.

The burning question

Can the Warriors make Mount Smart Stadium into a fortress once again? They won just three of 10 games at the venue last season, after winning seven of 12 there en route to the playoffs a year earlier. If the Warriors are to be a genuine force in 2020 then they probably need to win the majority of their games at their traditional home.

Indigenous All Star Josh Curran celebrates a try.
Indigenous All Star Josh Curran celebrates a try. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Breakout player to watch

Josh Curran has been among the club's pre-season standouts and is a good chance of nailing a starting spot in the forward pack for the season opener against Newcastle on March 14. While the former Rooster played just 78 minutes of NRL football in three games last year, his potential was recognised by Indigenous coach Laurie Daley who included him in his squad for the annual All Stars clash.

The quote

"If you don't believe that you are a chance of making the finals then you are never going to get there are you? If we talk about winning now and everyone starts talking about winning then we give ourselves a chance. We have put in some good solid work, especially around our game model and our plan and how we want to play this year ... we are just trying to play a fast game. All our training has been around that and everyone has really adapted to that." — Warriors forward Adam Blair on 2020 expectations and efforts to change their style of play