Can the New Zealand Warriors defy the mounting odds stacked against them to make finals?
Each week, two NRL.com experts will debate the game's hottest topics in our For & Against series. This week it's whether the Warriors can surge their way into the finals for only the second time since their grand final appearance in 2011.
NRL.com senior reporter Brad Walter
The Warriors have made the biggest sacrifice to enable the NRL season to re-start and they can draw upon that to shock rivals and make the finals.
Despite becoming many people's second favourite team, most hope – but don't believe – the Warriors can be a competitive force.
Sure they have been hit hard by injuries and there is the possibility of players getting homesick but the Warriors also have the advantage of being in camp together for four weeks before their clash with the Dragons.
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The players will be bonded by their commitment to the cause, which has involved 14 days together in isolation in Tamworth before relocating to Gosford.
They are not here for a holiday or to make up the numbers, and coach Stephen Kearney will ensure his players use that as extra motivation.
If the Warriors can get a win in their early games, belief will build and they could go on a run. Imagine the support if the Warriors were to become the fairytale team of the 2020 season.
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The loss of Leeson Ah Mau, in particular, is a blow but there is still plenty of experience and talent in the team.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won the 2018 Dally M Medal, Adam Blair has played more than 300 NRL matches and 50 Tests, Blake Green is a highly regarded organiser and Kodi Nikorima, David Fusitu'a, Ken Maumalo, Peta Hiku and Tohu Harris are all seasoned internationals.
The new NRL loan system approved for the Warriors will ensure the club receives players on short-term deals who want to make the most of their opportunity to prove what they can do.
It’s going to be tough but there are plenty of reasons to believe the Warriors can be there when it matters at the end of the season.
NRL.com editor Paul Suttor
As great as it would be for the Warriors to defy the odds heavily stacked against them, fairytale endings are few and far between in the NRL.
The grim reality is the Warriors would have been a fringe playoff candidate if 2020 had been a normal season but the "once in a century" circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it extremely improbable for them to qualify for the final eight.
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It would be the stuff of a Hollywood sports movie if they were to do it - team written of before start of season, team loses first game and told they can’t go home, team stays in country another week and loses another game, team goes home, team comes back to foreign country (Australia's country music capital Tamworth could be as foreign as you’re going to get for many Warriors players), team stays for an indefinite period away from home but then, plot twist - team starts winning and makes the finals!
That'd be the biggest underdog story since Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.
Unfortunately, the storyline facing the Warriors is not just confined to being based away from home and playing a large chunk of their matches on the road - potentially all of them if the travel restrictions between Australia and New Zealand aren't lifted by the end of the regular season in the last weekend in September.
They have the worst injury toll in the NRL - props Bunty Afoa and Leeson Ah Mau being out long term will be significant while they’re also not going to be seeing their hardest working defender, Jazz Tevaga, on the field again for a lengthy stretch.
Their depth has been eroded with Adam Keighran and Jackson Frei also sidelined for several months and luckless hooker Nathaniel Roache still working his way back to a return.
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On top of that, they have uncertainty around their key positions - Blake Green and Chanel Harris-Tavita were the halves when the Warriors last stepped onto the field in March with last year’s big mid-season recruit Kodi Nikorima the bench utility.
Now CHT is on the reserves and Nikorima is back in the starting side for Saturday's stoush with St George Illawarra on the Central Coast.
Their hooker, Wayde Egan, is only two games into getting to know his new team’s style of play so he will need to restart that process.
Again it appears a lot will fall onto the shoulder of skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
He’s undoubtedly a great player, one of the truly elite stars of the NRL but recent history has shown that you can take it as a given that he will be superb no matter what but he needs the rest of the team to step up.
Their chances of making the finals are slim at best unless the supporting cast at the Warriors plays above expectations to give them an against-the-odds story even Hollywood couldn’t script.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.