A team that is always highly rated with the players at their disposal, in recent years, the Warriors have faltered under the pressure and not performed at their best. As they undergo a further transition ahead of the 2017 season with a new coach in Stephen Kearney and a new half in Kieran Foran, Warriors fans will be wondering if this is the year that they can stake their claims or if it will be much of the same. A talented side across the park, the Warriors certainly have the personnel to perform consistently but do they have the mental fortitude to be consistent?
A new coach can often have numerous effects on a side, all of which have differing natures. It can re-energise the team, bring them together and galvanise them to perform better and more consistently on the field to get the desired results. In this type of setup, the coach can extract the very best out of players that have perhaps been inconsistent in the past. This is the type of coach Warriors fans hope Stephen Kearney will be, given the general inconsistency of some of their players.
Conversely, disharmony can be a striking factor when a new coach arrives due to factions that may exist within the playing roster or riffs between the playing roster and the staff. Players often become quite attached to coaches for different reasons despite what might be said in the media, so the challenge for Kearney as well as for his players is to put concerns or differences aside and focus on what is important. The football, the results and the fans.
Another focus of the Warriors 2017 season is the pending return of star fullback, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. One of the elite fullbacks in the game, Tuivasa-Sheck had little chance to show just how good he could be in 2016 before he suffered an ACL injury that ended his season. With the hype and billing around him and his play so high, Warriors fans are expecting a lot of him and are expecting him to fire.
Boasting a star-studded team in some respects, all eyes will be on Tuivasa-Sheck and how quickly he returns to top form after his injury lay-off and how he links up with the likes of Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke. Those two aforementioned in Johnson and Luke will also play an integral role in the Warriors potential success – with Johnson’s playmaking abilities and astute running game and Luke’s nifty, dynamic runs from dummy half.
In the end, the Warriors chances hinge on the success of Johnson, Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke. With that said, it is the role players of the team – the other players on the roster – that need to provide an ample supporting cast for the key players to make their mark on games. Without a solid support cast around them, the Warriors efforts will likely go the way of previous years that will once again leave them disappointed by the end of the season. Most importantly, what are the expectations of the team under new coach Stephen Kearney?
Best buy: To date, the Warriors have only really signed one player and that is Kieran Foran, so it leaves little room for selection. Foran’s exploits as a player on the field are undeniable. A talented, gifted footballer, he proved his worth as a Manly player and then as a Kiwi international, showcasing just how good he was. Although his move to the Parramatta Eels eventually ended in differing circumstances due to some off-field issues, he showed glimpses of his form and just how good he was. When he gets the all-clear from the NRL to return to the game as a starting half, Warriors fans will hope he can be the cool, calm influence on Johnson, and take away some of the pressure from the man that has carried the side on his back in recent years. How long it takes Foran to get back to elite form is the question and whether he can be the man to guide the club to premiership success.
Best Young Talent: He may have seen some limited opportunity last year but this season could be the one whereby Bunty Afoa makes a name for himself. A hulking back-rower, Afoa’s line-running skills were on display last year in one particular game when he scored two tries by hitting a gap at the right time off two stellar passes from Johnson. With some uncertainty surrounding their forward pack moving forward, opportunities for Afoa could come sooner than many think. Afoa would not look out of place in the team, given how highly rated he is by fans. The change in coach may affect the time he sees early on but should he impress for the Warriors feeder team, he may see first-grade time sooner rather than later. He will be a player that will only get better as he gets more game time.
2017 Gains: Kieran Foran (Parramatta Eels, 2017).
Our predicted Warriors line-up at full strength is:
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. Manu Vatuvei
3. Solomone Kata
4. Tuimoala Lolohea
5. David Fusitu’a
6. Kieran Foran
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Jacob Lillyman
9. Issac Luke
10. Ben Matulino
11. Bodene Thompson
12. Simon Mannering
13. Ryan Hoffman (C).
14. Sam Lisone
15. Albert Vete
16. Charlie Gubb
17. Bunty Afoa
Coach: Stephen Kearney.