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When seventh feels like winning: Time to hop on the Warriors' 'bandwagon'... before it's too late

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Roar Pro
17th April, 2024
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Sell-out home games, plenty of away support, merchandise flying off the shelves and NZ Media outlets leading with Warriors’ game commentary on match day – the Warriors are sitting in seventh, yet it has never been a better time to be a fan.

As someone often guilty of premature celebration – which can affect many men – I appreciate we’ve won nothing yet. But I’m not alone. There is a bubbling optimism from the Warriors faithful that last year’s top-four finish was no one-season wonder.

Many picked the Warriors to struggle this season, citing the North Queensland Cowboys as an example of the challenges new coaches face in their second season. Fair call.

Paul Gallen was one of the few backing the Warriors to better last year’s top-four finish. After six rounds Billy Slater has seen enough to suggest the Warriors could be premiership contenders. It seems the peptides of popular opinion may be turning.

Three from six doesn’t sound like cause for celebration, but there are plenty of indicators they will improve.

A clunky first-round loss to Cronulla was followed by Melbourne’s buzzer-beating Xavier Coates with a finish so stunning Dulux have tried to sign him.

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An 18-10 win against Canberra and predictable Ricky Stuart outrage was followed by a hard-fought win against a resilient Knights team, before a thumping victory over the hapless Rabbitohs.

The Warriors looked strangely flat for long periods in last week’s extra-time stalemate against Manly. Manly started strongly courtesy of a Daly Cherry-Evans masterclass, leaping to a 16-0 lead after just 27 minutes.

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Historically, this is when the Warriors capitulate, leaving puzzled coach and captain muttering about attitude and standards in the post-match press conference.

Instead, led by a staggering 346 metres from Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and 50-plus tackles each from Mitchell Barnett, Tohu Harris and Wayde Egan the Warriors dragged themselves into contention, falling agonisingly short.

The Warriors have shown again the resilience so often lauded last year. Even when playing poorly, opposing teams need to work hard for 80 minutes, even 90 minutes, to beat them. They keep coming.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Shaun Johnson of the Warriors passes the ball during the round eight NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at Moreton Daily Stadium, on April 30, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Shaun Johnson. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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Johnson and Egan have been excellent with Egan well positioned for an Origin spot. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck looks like he never left, sitting third in run metres for the season, and Nicoll-Klokstad’s return from injury has shown why he remains Andrew Webster’s first-choice fullback.

The Warriors have played well without yet putting in a complete performance or having their best side on the pitch. The players who have filled the gaps have done their job. There is depth in key positions and growing excitement about what this team could do when everything comes together. With games against the Dragons and Titans coming up, it could come sooner than later.

The future looks even brighter with the tremendous addition of Kiwi captain and three-time premiership winner James Fisher-Harris for 2025. I can’t think of a better player to replace Addin Fonua-Blake. The social media messaging groups exploded with the news. He brings a great work ethic, mana and an understanding of what it takes to win.

Andrew Webster has created an environment that supports performance. The Warriors are well-organised and have smart game plans on match day. The fans love it, and the players are loving it. There is no doubt this has helped the club attract talent like Kurt Capewell and Fisher-Harris.

The fifth round Melbourne-Broncos game has been the best of the season; a benchmark standard. The Warriors aren’t quite there yet but it feels like they’re not far away.

It might be premature, but I can’t help but be excited. And I know I’m not alone. The Warriors’ bandwagon has never been so crowded, and it is awesome to be a part of. Up the Wahs!

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