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NRL 2016 ladder countdown: New Zealand Warriors (ninth)

(AAP Image/David Rowland)
Roar Guru
25th February, 2016
4

It is no secret that the New Zealand Warriors have purchased well in the off-season, however it is also no secret that they are as inconsistent as a potato scallop from a fish and chip shop.

Sometimes they can be amazing, but other times they are just a horrible, disjointed mess.

After a horror slide down the ladder last year where the Warriors lost their last eight games, putting on dismal performance after dismal performance following the loss of Shaun Johnson, the Warriors come into 2016 with an improved side.

They gained Issac Luke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jeff Robson, Ligi Sao, James Gavet and Blake Ayshford (aka the GOAT) and lost really only Sam Tomkins, Chad Townsend and Nathan Friend.

Tomkins was crap so he is no loss especially given how deadly Tuivasa-Sheck is, Townsend was good for the first half of the year but is too inconsistent and Luke is a huge improvement over Friend.

Their side, which was already top eight material last year, has become even stronger, so the question is, will they finally be able to make the eight for the first time since 2011? Or will they once again disappoint?

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. Tuimoala Lolohea
3. Konrad Hurrell
4. Solomone Kata
5. Manu Vatuvei
6. Jeff Robson
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Jacob Lillyman
9. Issac Luke
10. Ben Matulino
11. Ryan Hoffman
12. Bodene Thompson
13. Simon Mannering
14. Ben Henry
15. Ligi Sao
16. Albert Vete
17. Sam Lisone

Strengths
First off the bat, that spine is irresistable. Tuivasa-Sheck was the best fullback in the game last year, completely outperforming every other number one.

I have heard a lot of people saying, ‘Oh I hope the Warriors don’t screw up his development’, but the problem I have with that statement is that he is already developed. He spent 2013 and 2014 developing, so the Warriors can’t do a damn thing to his development without some sort of time machine.

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Tuivasa-Sheck may have looked lacklustre in the Auckland Nines, but he will be very good this season, even if he takes a step down from his form last year.

Then you have Shaun Johnson. This guy is basically a likable Chris Sandow, with a much higher ceiling. However, with his ridiculous ceiling it is impossible to argue that he isn’t a positive to this side.

When he actually tries he is electric and just amazing to watch. To be fair to him he puts more effort into games than Sandow, but he will have periods that can last months where he consistently does nothing. Still, with a player this good the troughs are worth it for the peaks.

Then you add Robson. A lot of people aren’t the biggest fan, but he is just what this side needs. For all of Robson’s faults, like his lack of speed and poor running game, you know what you are getting with him. He may be incredibly average, but he is consistent and if there is one thing the Warriors need it is consistent players.

As a foil to the erratic Johnson, Robson will be a very handy pickup. And his form in the Auckland Nines was pretty damn good.

And as the final piece of the spine, you have Luke who is the second best dummy half in the game, behind Cameron Smith. Losing Luke was a huge loss for the Rabbitohs, and a big gain for the Warriors.

No offence to Friend, who is very solid, but Luke is the first genuinely world class and impressive dummy half that the Warriors have had in a very long time. His spark around the ruck will really help their forwards get a roll on.

Not only that, but he is a passionate player and really will lead by example next year, helping the Warriors fight their inconsistency issue. Also, he is a genuine 80-minute player meaning the Warriors won’t need to run a utility and can run a bench of forwards. That will help them a lot, since their bench needs all the help it can get.

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Solomone Kata was one of last year’s better rookies and fills a role in the team that the Warriors have been lacking for years. Ever since Brent Tate left, the Warriors have never had a quality centre, with the closest being the inconsistent as all hell Konrad Hurrell.

However Kata has finally filled that void, bringing dynamic running and skills with the ball in-hand to the table. He promises to be a very good player for the Warriors for years to come.

Manu Vatuvei is one of the better wingers in the game, he is just too big to defend against one on one and it really is unfair. At the age of 29 he already has 146 tries and is the most prolific New Zealand try-scorer of all time, with more than 10 tries a season for the last 10 campaigns.

Vatuvei may have had consistency problems when he was younger, but he is over most of that. However, his best feature is just the influence he has over that side, you can really see the intensity levels of the side drop in games where he is injured.

The starting props are quite good. Jacob Lillyman may be ageing but he is still a current Queensland representative player, and provides very solid performances with solid defence and solid metres.

Ben Matulino is one of the better younger props in the game, and has incredible amounts of first-grade experience considering how young he is. He is the main source of go-forward that the Warriors have, consistently bending the line with his footwork and offloads.

Last year Matulino made 155 metres per game on average and released 53 offloads. His stellar performances have earned him a lot of well-deserved praise from many fans.

Heck, the starting second row is also incredible. In a sea of fluctuating players, Ryan Hoffman and Simon Mannering are two solid and consistent performers. The two put in 100 per cent every week but both play different roles that complement each other well.

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Hoffman runs hard and smart while Mannering just puts his head down and tackles his skin off in defence, with both of them always rallying the troops to follow their lead. There is a reason these two players are established representatives, they are very good.

Then there is Bodene Thompson, one of the real finds of 2015. He was another very consistent player for the Warriors in 2015, and his combination with Johnson at times reminded me of the Cooper and Thurston partnership.

With a huge roster overhaul, those combinations are very important to keep and his service in 2015 will be invaluable to the squad.

Weaknesses
Tuimolola Lolohea was picked in the side not just because he needs to be, but he is better than any of the other wingers the Warriors have on their book, despite him being a half.

Matt Allwood and Jonathan Wright are not first-grade level players and the Warriors don’t have any other real outside backs. The lack of quality is very frightening.

Hurrell is the embodiment of the Warriors. He is up there with Sandow as the the most consistent player I have ever seen. Not only that but he is almost comically lazy.

Hurrell will go from running over the top of blokes one week to floundering around the next. He debuted back in 2012 and has shown no improvement whatsoever in the three years since. There were a lot of reports a while ago that the Warriors wanted to axe him and I don’t blame them, the guy is just not good enough.

His running style is dangerous, too.

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The bench is also very mediocre, especially when you compare it to the strength of the starting side. The Warriors’ intensity starts to slip when the interchanges are in action.

Ben Henry is more or less untested in first grade, Ligi Sao didn’t look too impressive in a very poor Manly pack last year, Albert Vete is promising but I think he lacks that consistency and Sam Lisone is very inexperienced.

The bench just doesn’t do enough for me, and the quality of your bench is now incredibly important with the reduced interchanges.

But here we get to the big issues at the Warriors.

Firstly, there is Andrew McFadden. He may have little experience as a first-grade coach and hasn’t had much time to show off his skills, however he has to go. The players don’t respect him – we all saw the Warriors’ capitulation after Johnson went down injured against Manly. The second he went down, it was like the players just gave up.

If you are a respected coach, who knows how to motivate your players, that doesn’t happen. Look at coaches like Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy – could you really see the Broncos or Melbourne ever giving up like that?

The fact the Warriors stopped caring shouts to me that this is a team that doesn’t care what their coach thinks. This is very similar to the Rick Stone situation at Newcastle, Stone needed to be pushed out and so does McFadden.

Half the club wants him gone already. With constant reports that if he doesn’t get off to a flying start the Warriors will fire him to bring back Ivan Cleary (who was the last coach to get them into the eight) it is hard to imagine he will stay out the year.

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This means there will be an early coaching change, which cannot be a good thing because the tactics would change drastically. On-field cohesion will suffer.

It seems the club do not have the balls to sack McFadden, so they are waiting for bad results for an excuse. It should have already happened in the off-season, not in the middle of the campaign.

Finally, the biggest issue with the Warriors is that they are the Warriors. I’ve already mentioned this, but they are too inconsistent. They have always been that way, it is ingrained in the club’s culture.

Expectations
I really want to see a top nine introduced. It was so hard choosing a side to come ninth and I really didn’t want to put the Warriors here. However, with their lack of consistency, poor bench, questionable attitude and confusion over the coaching situation I cannot put them into the eight, despite how stacked their side is.

They will miss on points differential because the other teams just… well they deserve to be in the top eight more. So I will reluctantly put the Warriors at ninth.

Conclusion
There is no way McFadden will last until the end of the year, and don’t be surprised at all if Cleary replaces him. Although they may miss the eight by a ridiculously small margin this year, with a stable coach and a year for the spine to properly gel then they will cruise into the eight in 2017.

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