We continue the 2015 NRL season reviews with the NZ Warriors, who will be looking for a much improved 2016 season following a disastrous year.
The Run Down
Unlike previous years, the Warriors arrived in the top 8 earlier than usual and were in control of their own destiny. But looking back in hindsight, the season came to a halt when Feleti Mateo landed on Shaun Johnson’s leg –breaking it and the hearts of the Warriors faithful.
That season ending injury to Johnson in hindsight effectively ended the Warriors season however alarm bells were already ringing prior to that fateful night at Mt Smart.
A surprisingly poor home record of five wins and seven losses meant the Warriors were always going to struggle for finals footy going by their past away record. However the side bucked that trend – early in the season at least, getting over the line late snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against the Eels and Sharks within a week of each other.
However there were major concerns mid way through the season despite sitting pretty and with destiny in their own hands. Losses to the lowly Titans and an Origin-depleted Roosters outfit prior to making it into the top 4 at Mt Smart indicated this side was far from a finals contender.
By the end of round 19, the Warriors were sitting in 4th after a string of hard fought wins against teams who were struggling. But the return match against the Roosters in Sydney loomed – the pessimists knew this was the game they’d be shown up and sure enough they were completely outclassed across the park 24-0.
We learned a thing or two from this game – shut down the Warriors pack and you shut down Shaun Johnson no matter how good his form his.
The Best Of
Round 18 – Warriors 28 – Storm 14, Mt Smart Stadium
The game will be remembered as the day Nathan Friend became a house hold name and a You Tube hit for his acrobatics and tunnel ball heroics which lead to arguably one the tries of the year.
This was one of those games the Warriors had to win and did. The game was on the back of Origin III and taking advantage of weary legs from the Storm’s key men in Cronk, Smith and Chambers was a must.
Johnson, who was displaying week in week out consistency, was once again at his solo best stepping through Cameron Smith and scoring one of five Warriors tries, guiding the Warriors into 4th place on the ladder.
But this was as good as it got – mark down round 18 when the Warriors recorded their final win of the season.
The Worst Of
Post Johnson injury
While the Warriors faithful still kept the faith, it wasn’t long until the reality sunk in that the last six rounds were going to be ugly after Shaun Johnson’s season ending injury.
While Tui Lolohea showed plenty stepping into Johnson’s shoes, players were chopped and changed due to injuries, suspensions and poor form which ultimately culminated in the white flag being raised.
The horror show in Wellington against the Red V was the beginning of the end and signalled the start of four weeks of shellackings including the opposition raising the bat at 50 twice before nearly stealing a huge upset victory against the Bulldogs.
Player of the year
Normally this award is reserved for captain Mannering and while he’s been once again in the top echelon of the side, in 2015 we started to see the best of Shaun Johnson on a consistent basis once McFadden was able to settle on combinations.
He responded to criticism for a slow start to the year after expectations for the 2014 Golden Boot winner had reached fever pitch heading into the season.
Fantasy NRL players will agree the purple patch he struck through July was something never seen before hitting 90+ fantasy points weeks in a row. For novices, to hit 50 points is a good effort for someone in the halves.
If you’re looking for positives from the Warriors season, it will be remembered for Johnson’s dazzling solo efforts that will no doubt be part of next season’s TV promo.
While the previous category was pretty thin, there was plenty to choose from here.
Tuimoala Lolohea was a standout – his Wikipedia now classes him as a fullback, wing, centre and half – positions he started in throughout the year. His highlight reel will mostly come from those playmaking roles, however he might find himself in the centres next year where the Warriors are struggling for consistency.
Albert Vete looks destined to lead the next crop of up and coming props. He’s been brutal on the field and played with great maturity for his age. He really stepped up during the Warriors downward spiral taking it upon himself to help salvage something from a failed season.A few more miles in the legs will see him play a key role in the prop rotation with the reduced interchange next year alongside fellow rookie Sam Lisone who also started the year with a bang.
Solomone Kata played every single game and gave the Warriors some spark with ball in hand but will need to work on his defence and being caught out a number of times on the Warriors left edge. Meanwile Ken Maumalo needs to remember he’s one of the biggest wingers in the NRL and use his power not just on starting sets but finding the try line.
Raymond Faitala-Mariner is another who looks more than capable of playing backup to the more senior back row. He’s a strong ball runner and looks to have a decent motor on him.
Coach’s report card
It’s been a tough year for Andrew McFadden and no doubt a rude awakening into the fickle life of an NRL coach.
Not only has he had to juggle the usual injuries – more so at the back of the year, but also trying to break up the bad habits and attitudes that have come to light recently.
However as the list of unavailable players grew to breaking point, McFadden had no choice but to name players ‘who weren’t up to first grade standard’ –in his words. Not even Craig Bellamy could’ve made this mob perform any better in the last six weeks, although some might argue they’d be a hell of a lot fitter but we won’t flog that dead horse.
He, along with CEO Jim Doyle have also installed a new level of professionalism not seen at the club in a while. While some players have struggled to adhere to this going by the list of ‘dead wood’ being let go, hopefully the club will have all players buying in to a new ‘culture’ in 2016.
Next year will be McFadden’s make-or- break year. There’s no doubt a couple of star signings will help, however his coaching ability will be questioned again if this side can’t make finals.
He needs a plan B should key players fall to injury.
Need more from
Limited to just 12 appearances, he eventually became the not so proud owner of the 14 jersey and not seeing game time until late in the first half after a year of ill discipline and niggling injuries.
However his time on the park resembled that of someone in the back-row with an over-eager appetite for running at torsos rather at gaps with very little footwork that we’ve seen in the past. Looks to still be a liability on defence and it was no surprise to see him dropped for the final game.
He needs a good off season and perhaps a social media ban – Football seems to come second to Twitter and Instagram these days.
Likely 17 for 2016
- Roger Tuivasa-Scheck
- David Fusitua
- Tuimoala Lolohea
- Ben Henry
- Manu Vatuvei
- Shaun Johnson
- Thomas Leuluai
- Jacob Lillyman
- Isaac Luke
- Ben Matulino
- Bodene Thompson
- Ryan Hoffman
- Simon Mannering
- Ligi Sao
- Albert Vete
- Charlie Gubb
- Sam Lisone
Notes: Couldn’t fit Ben Henry onto bench assuming the starting back row play 80 mins. However should McFadden give them a spell, Sao to be utility cover.
Hurrell’s inclusion to be determined by how his preseason goes but Kata likely to be next cab off the rank.