After coming through this season's unprecedented challenges in a sound financial position, the Warriors are looking to capitalise on their success and increased fan base by starting 2021 with a block of home games and finishing it by playing finals.
With 29 players, staff and members of their families now undergoing 14 days of hotel quarantine after returning to New Zealand, Warriors chairman Rob Croot admitted he and CEO Cameron George had shed tears when the most difficult season in the club’s history ended last Sunday.
However, fears that COVID-19 could decimate the Auckland-based club proved to be unfounded and the Warriors not only survived but thrived during their five months in Australia to set up a bright future under incoming coach Nathan Brown.
In a season review with journalists from Australia and New Zealand, Croot, George and Warriors owner Mark Robinson said the club was now in a strong position to achieve the success many feel is long overdue after 25 years.
“The year was really set up for our club to fail and break,” George said. “But from my perspective what we will remember 2020 as is the year that made us as a club and made us excited for the future.
“This year defined our values, it defined our culture and allowed them to be tested. From where I sit the hard work starts now, we have got our baseline and we are going to springboard into 2021 with a real hard-edge work ethic.”
The Warriors finished 10th this season after winning five of their last nine games and will next season be bolstered by the recruitment of Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake, his Tonga team-mate Ben Murdoch-Masila, Parramatta front-rower Kane Evans and St George Illawarra centre Euan Aitken.
In addition, star wingers David Fusitua and Ken Maumalo will rejoin the team after returning home when their families weren’t allowed into Australia, while Kiwis prop Leeson Ah Mau did not play after the season resumed following a training mishap in Tamworth.
“I think it’s probably the best roster the club has had since Stacey Jones, Awen Guttenbeil and those boys back then when they were pushing for the finals,” Robinson said.
“It’s got to be a top-eight club with that roster. If we make the top six, that’s fantastic; if we do even better than that, the turnaround and the strength of our club is amazing.
“But top eight, yes, [we’re] definitely expecting top eight next year. We weren’t far off making the top eight with what we had.”
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While there is uncertainty about where the team will be based next year, George revealed that he has requested the NRL give the Warriors a block of home games to start the season.
If the borders are still closed, the Warriors hope they will be open in time for the club to finish the season with a block of home matches.
“The thing I want to make absolutely clear is that our first preference and most preferred option is to be here with our fans at Mt Smart [Stadium],” George said.
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“I have been working with [NRL GM elite competitions] Jason King, who is developing the draw, as every other club does. They are fully aware of the challenges that exist with the unknown factor of what our season could look like next year.
“What I have asked them to do is potentially looking at early season having a few home games in a row so if we are here we get a few games to kick off in front of our fans and then alternatively look at the back end of the season with a few games at home in a row.”
Croot said the Warriors were also keen to play at home so they can capitalise on the growing support for the club on both sides of the Tasman because of the sacrifices the team had made to keep the NRL season going.
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“That hasn’t tricked through into the financials yet but if we can settle in at Mt Smart for 2021 we will be very happy," Croot said.
“We are in a strong financial situation, given what we have gone through.
“The club is certainly secure, we rely on a little bit of support in the background through the NRL for being away and the extra costs that we incur.
“But certainly our desire is to be at home. That gives us a lot more financial security. This season would have been much better for us if we had been at home.”
The majority of the Warriors are now undergoing 14 days hotel quarantine in Auckland but George said they were “the happiest people in isolation in New Zealand because they know the next step is back into their families”.
He hopes a trans-Tasman travel bubble will ensure they don’t have to endure a similar process again next year.
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“Any news around that would be so pleasing for us a club,” George said. “We want our fans to reconnect and re-engage with our footy team and we want to be back here playing in front of them next year.
“If we can somehow have a bubble that would allow teams from Australia to come over without restrictions and vice-versa it would be the most exciting thing that could happen to this club next year.
“We are building a nice roster and we have an unbelievable fan base so they deserve to be together on game day.”