The start of the 2019 NRLW season is just over three weeks away.
The Auckland Warriors came into the competition with high hopes and expectations. The club has failed miserably and consistently since its inception.
A name change to New Zealand and multiple colour evolutions have not helped the club to any success. So where has it all gone so wrong for such a promising organisation?
Their debut season in 1995 was overshadowed by the outbreak of the Super League War. Their opening game against Brisbane attracted 30,000 fans. This crowd flocked to see rugby league at its best and may have left disappointed that the Warriors didn’t win, but they were most certainly not disappointed with the contest. Their first game was brilliant to watch.
In any case, they finished the season with more wins than losses and the future looked bright. Maybe expectations have always been unfairly placed on this team. Most fans at the time thought and feared that the club was going to be as dominant as the Brisbane Broncos. Now, most fans of the game only wish that to be the case.
Whether rugby league fans like the Warriors or not, they are the game’s representatives in New Zealand. Often, their performances leave fans frustrated not only with the Warriors but also with the game.
The success or lack of success of the Warriors, unfortunately, impacts on the game in general and in a country where rugby union is king, the Warriors need to be successful for the game to get the attention it needs.
Success did finally come the Warriors way when they won the minor premiership in 2002 and made the grand final in 2003. A brilliant Stacey Jones try put them ahead, and the game was still very much in the balance until Richard Villasanti smashed Brad Fitler when he was on the ground. Adrian Morley and the Roosters forward pack were having none of that. The Roosters won 30–8.
Despite having three consistent seasons, the 2004 Warriors were back to their choking best. The 2006 salary cap drama cost the club a spot in the playoffs. Though, the club would eventually get back to the grand final in 2011, losing to Manly in an entertaining contest; they have failed to progress. The best place they have finished since is ninth.
So where to from here?
The club has changed names, colours, coaches and they have not worked. They have bought big names, used local talent, and the results have been somewhat much the same.
Recently, there has been a discussion over new owners – though I think Eric Watson is stable and I am not convinced new owners will produce any magic wands.
I am, and I am not, a Warriors fan. I want them to do well, so the game does well in New Zealand. I like watching their brand of rugby league. It’s entertaining when they are on, but when they are not, it looks like the players don’t want to be there. It also seems that some players go to the Warriors and become worse players – that’s never a good sign.
In 2017, the Warriors had 17,428 members. This amount placed them 11th on the list. Very much consistent with their on-field form. However, for a club that represents a nation, this is not good enough.
I know with more success more fans will join, but the club needs to do more. It is obvious I know, but the more the club engages with the fans, the more it attends junior coaching clinics, schools and other local events the more the local fans will be tolerable towards their performances.
The club needs stability. Ownership talk and player and coach turnovers do not excite fans into wanting to commit financially to a team.
Despite all the doom and gloom, the club has the potential to be dominant. It has sponsorship opportunities that every club envies. If it improves it scouting networks, the club has first dibs on any promising junior that comes through the Kiwi system. All of this bodes well for the Warriors.
No doubt the Warriors have tried to implement this already, but it needs to succeed with this before any expansion of the NRL takes place. At the moment, the Warriors have to compete with rugby union for talent which is hard enough, but if a Wellington bid were successful in gaining entry to the NRL, then they would have yet another rival to the talent pool.
Personally, I would like to the Warriors revert to the Auckland Warriors brand and go back to their original colours. I would like to see their pathway continue in the NSW Cup as this exposes their players to a better brand of rugby league that is currently produced locally in New Zealand.
Finally, I would like to see the Warriors have success, and not just for a single season, but continuously like that of the Broncos or Storm. If the Warriors go well, then the vibe of the game is good, and this only benefits the growth of rugby league in New Zealand.
New Zealand / Auckland Warriors
First Season: 1995