Here we are again for the 2nd instalment of the player previews, with the New Zealand Warriors coming under the microscope. With some fresh faces in the team for 2014, a potential mouth-watering combination between Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins and the same experienced players, will the Warriors be a force or will their season be hot and cold like they have been in the past?
2014 Gains: Chad Townsend (Sharks) Jayson Bukuya (Sharks) Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors)
The Warriors have everything at their disposal to succeed. A core of veteran players, young, talented halves, an exciting crop of young talent bursting through the ranks and a great fan-base both in New Zealand and around Australia but despite all that, recent years have seen them produce some inconsistent form.
Is that a result of the coach, inconsistent form from the players or other underlying factors?
Whatever it may be, 2014 is a year of promise for the Warriors side, as they look to buck the trend and become a solid, consistent outfit this year – one certainly would not put it past them either, given the immense talents they have across the park and waiting in the wings.
With the focus as usual on the sensational play of Shaun Johnson – who enjoyed quite a stellar Nines tournament – he will once again be the focal point in attack and will lead the side around the park. With his ability well-known and on show just about every week, is that the sort of pressure he can handle and perform well under, or will it see him play inconsistently.
Based on how he has started 2014, with blistering performances in the Nines comp – as mentioned above – Warriors fans would be expecting him to really come into his own and be the consistent half they know he can be.
Perhaps the biggest talking point of the Warriors camp for 2014, though, is the signing of English international, Sam Tomkins.
Those of you that have watched the Wigan Warriors in the Super League, would have seen just what Tomkins is capable of on a consistent basis. He has speed, quick feet, a great awareness of the game and for a smaller player, surprisingly strong power.
With the potential to perform one of the most dangerous combinations in the NRL with Shaun Johnson, a lot rests on the shoulders of Tomkins. Will he use the Nines form he showed to catapult himself into the NRL and perform consistently, or will he start in a slow fashion whilst he gets used to the different pace of the 13-a-side game in the NRL?
Regardless of that, Tomkins is the sort of player that has proven he can shine under pressure and a player that looks to perform and succeed in every possible way and the best possible way. Predominantly a fullback, his ball-playing skills are just as strong, putting him in that category of the new-age fullback, a ball-playing one. With the added dimension of those skills from Tomkins at the back, Johnson will not be the only one that opposition teams have to watch out for in attack.
One other player who will be expected to perform is back-rower Feleti Mateo. By his own standards, he is coming off a rather poor season and in the eyes of the fans, they will be expecting huge improvement from him in 2014. Last year saw him play inconsistently and he seemed a yard or two off the pace. Fans are well aware of how potent he can be in attack with his offloads and great awareness, and it is that sort of ability that they will be looking to see from him.
With Johnson and Tomkins both excelling at hole-running, an in-form Mateo can provide a perfect foil and platform for the duo with pinpoint offloads and accurate passing to lead to opportunities. Will we see that from Mateo, though, or will Warriors fans see another season of inconsistency from him?
For the side across the Tasman, the key will be to start the season strongly and rectify their previous inconsistencies. They have the talent to do so both in their first-grade side and coming through the ranks and if all of their key players can stay healthy, they will be a real chance for a top 8 berth. If it all comes together, they have every chance of beating any side on any given day.
Player to Watch: Suaia Matagi. A huge, barnstorming prop, Matagi came into his own towards the end of the 2013 season and laid the platform for the Warriors when it mattered. A bruising forward who hits the line hard and at speed, Matagi often causes problems for opposition defences with that speed and with a solid ability to offload and spin out of tackles. With the likes of Sam Rapira and Jacob Lillyman perhaps garnering more attention, the under-rated Matagi is just as potent as the other Warriors forwards and whether he starts or comes off the bench, his impact will be crucial for the Warriors side moving forward. He too enjoyed a stellar Nines tournament and will be looking to use that form to catapult himself into a permanent starting role.
Here’s the team I’d go with:
1. Sam Tomkins
2. Manu Vatuvei
3. Carlos Tuimavave
4. Konrad Hurrell
5. Glen Fisiiahi
6. Kevin Locke
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Sam Rapira
9. Nathan Friend
10. Ben Matulino
11. Simon Mannering (C)
12. Jayson Bukuya
13. Feleti Mateo
14. Suaia Matagi
15. Sione Lousi
16. Jacob Lillyman
17. Sebastine Ikahihifo