They came home strong last year and managed to get themselves a coveted home semi final. However after surpassing all predictions last year – the New Zealand Warriors will be looking to improve on their respectable year of 2007. Continued improvement is evident under new coach Ivan Cleary and the previously erratic Warriors showcased a newfound confidence and structure,Â finally regaining some respect after three disappointing years.
Confidence and consistency was instilled by the acquisition of workhorse propÂ Steve Price and his steady, yet guiding influence remains the foundation to the Warriors continued success. The Warriors again possess a talented blend of size and skill, which should see them remain in contention to compete in semi-final football. However, the season ending knee injury to fullback Wade McKinnon will hamper the Warriors attacking game, as much of last seasonâ€™s success can be attributed to the robust runs of the dynamic custodian. Only time will tell how the loss of McKinnon will affect the Warriors chances, with many bookmakers already slashing their prices on the Warriors ability to reach the semi-finals.
If the Warriors can rectify their traveling woes, and find a reliable replacement for McKinnon, then there is no reason why the New Zealanderâ€™s canâ€™t again challenge for a top four position.
Aside from possessing the biggest forward pack in the competition, the Warriors real strength is their ability and instinct to switch to their exhilarating style of ad-lib, Polynesian attacking football at the drop of a hat. With their size, pace and skill, the Warriors have the ability to produce tries from anywhere on the paddock, and have proven in recent history that they are never dead and buried in tight contests.
Despite finishing the season in fourth spot, the Warriors still had trouble winning matches away from Mt Smart Stadium. Seven of their twelve season losses were recorded on the road, with the continuous traveling over the Tasman probably contributing to the New Zealanderâ€™s loss of focus midway through the season.
Expect a change in how the Warriors prepare and travel to away matches this season, as coach Cleary identified the amount of traveling as of his teamâ€™s main weaknesses last season.
Likely 2008 NRL Starting Team:
1- Patrick Ah Van
2- Michael Crockett
3- Brent Tate
4- Simon Mannering
5- Manu Vatuvei
6- Michael Witt
7- Grant Rovelli
8- Steve Price
9- Nathan Fien
10- Sam Rapira
11- Ruben Wiki
12- Logan Swann
13- Michael Luck
14- Epahalame Lauaki
15- Evarn Tuimavave
16- Wairangi Koopu
17â€“ Ian Henderson
Pre-Season Trial Matches:
15/02/08 v Newcastle Knights @ North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
29/02/08 v Manly Sea-Eagles @ Kawana Waters
2008 Acquisitions and Departures:
Brent Tate (Brisbane), Ian Henderson (Bradford), Ryan Shortland (Melbourne)
Tony Martin (Wakefield), Todd Byrne (Hull), Louis Anderson (Warrington), George Gatis (Huddersfield)
By Peter Roy