When you are born in New Zealand, you grow up learning two things.
1. The All Blacks are the best team you will ever see play rugby union and must be protected at all costs.
2. The Warriors will always disappoint you, no matter how great they appear to be. This has been the case throughout my whole life and I’m assuming will continue until I am an old man.
The Warriors came into the league in 1995, when I was six years old. My dad was a football (soccer) fan so there wasn’t much excitement in my house to begin with around rugby league, however we did always watch the All Blacks (which New Zealander doesn’t?).
Slowly but surely we began to get sucked in as the players became household names and the team started to perform better and better, culminating in the team’s first finals series in 2001 after they finished in eighth spot.
My dad loved Stacey Jones and so did I. He was the star we attached our fandom too. It was awesome to watch the little general run around in those days and even though we probably overrated his talent just a bit, he was ours and we loved him.
The early years of the Warriors were tumultuous to say the least. After a strong tenth-place finish in their first season in 1995, they went 11th in 1996, seventh in a ten-team Super League competition in 1997, 15th, 11th and then 13th before the aforementioned eighth in 2001 after the purchase of the club by Eric Watson, the rich guy who was going to take us to promised land (or so we thought).
The 2002 season began with fresh optimism among the team and it was a great year to be a Warriors fan. Jones was firing on all cylinders, Ivan Cleary was hoofing them through the posts and the forwards were banging bodies like you wouldn’t believe.
A first minor premiership had us all talking about winning the big one and sticking it to those Aussies who never thought a NZ rugby league team could compete in their competition. Alas, it wasn’t to be after a 30-8 pumping by the Sydney Roosters in the grand final and our hopes were dashed for another year.
The 2003 season came around and our hopes were renewed again. A good but not great year saw us finish sixth at the end of the season, good enough for finals footy for the third year in a row. However it wasn’t to be a repeat of a grand final as the Warriors went down to Penrith in the preliminary final 28-20.
This started a run of three terrible years for the Warriors, finishing outside the top eight in all three and almost claiming the wooden spoon in 2004. Then the run of up-and-down play for the next five years began. This is what the Warriors used to be known for and is something that we the fans now laugh about. This topsy-turvy form culminated in another grand final in 2011 but again, we couldn’t go the distance, losing to Manly 24-10.
The next six years were like watching paint dry and constantly stubbing your toe, with no top-eight finishes and some truly awful performances. An eighth-place finish in 2018 caused downright pandemonium in Auckland as fans were screaming out the usual chant of ‘it’s our year’. Once again, it was short lived. From 2019 to now, there have been no top-eight finishes and still no premierships.
Round 5, 2021 and the stage is set for the Warriors to move back into the top eight and show that they have the goods to challenge for a spot in the finals. They are facing the Manly Sea Eagles, bottom of the table, losers of four straight and a downright terrible team so far this season.
These are the games that make every Warriors fan nervous – the ones we know they should dominate but expect the worst. Luckily for us, we have seen it so many times before that we have developed our own type of Stockholm syndrome.
Ask any Warriors fan who hasn’t seen the score what happened and they’ll probably respond with ‘let me guess, we lost, right?’.
We’ve had it year after year after year – so much promise but severely lacking on delivery. However, we keep coming back. That is the classic Warriors syndrome.
You know you shouldn’t get your hopes up, then they win a couple of games and you start thinking to yourself ‘don’t do it, don’t get your hopes up’ while simultaneously getting your hopes up. And then it comes: the letdown, like always.
I, unfortunately, will never be a survivor of Warriors syndrome. I know in my heart that I’m going to keep coming back, year after year after year, and I know that I’m going to be let down year after year after year.
I love it. It’s like my own kind of personal torture. If you are a fellow Warriors syndrome sufferer, I hear you, I see you, I care for you.
If they win next week, you know we’ll all be thinking in the back of our minds ‘it’s our year’. And as always, lets gone Warriors!