Can the New Zealand Warriors do it again? Does a consecutive finals berth beckon? All that and more in part eight of our NRL previews as we dissect the big issues across the Tasman.
Coming off one of their best seasons to date, things seem to be clicking and falling into place for the Warriors.
That was until stalled contract talks threatened to see Shaun Johnson leave which he eventually did.
Johnson, formerly such a crucial player in the Warriors set up, will be hard to replace but can the Warriors overcome that barrier?
Is there enough experience in the side to guide them towards success or will Johnson’s loss prove to be their downfall?
For years, the Warriors hopes were pinned on Shaun Johnson. Their main man, a tremendous play-maker and a loyal servant.
In 2019, however, the Warriors will be without Johnson for the first time since his debut in 2011.
How will they cope from such a loss to their halves? With Mason Lino having already departed, the youth will have to step up and make themselves known.
Lino would have been the perfect foil having previously impressed when given an opportunity.
That will no longer be an option as the New Zealand Warriors turn to either Chanel Harris-Tavita or Hayze Perham.
Both are talented in their own right but as is the case with a youngster, a team nor its fans can be sure if a player will sink or swim.
Harris-Tavita is a young player that has been around the Warriors setup for numerous years now and looms as the front-runner.
A talented, direct half, his role will not be to replace Johnson but merely to support Blake Green, who takes on added responsibility.
If he fires and Green continues with his relative consistency, the combination could work.
If he fizzles, however, the Warriors might be in for a lean season.
Fresh off the back of their first finals appearance in some years, the question on everyone’s lips is; can the Warriors do it again?
Last year was no fluke as the Warriors put together a slate of wins late-on, in contrast to their end-of-season slide.
But with the aforementioned loss of Johnson, just how does that affect them moving forward?
Although not seen as an immediate premiership threat, the Warriors will always have an unpredictability about them.
With genuine stars of the game in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tohu Harris, Adam Blair and others, the firepower is there.
They just need further consistency and the right man alongside Green if results are to go their way.
Such work will not be easy given how many teams have improved this off-season but they will bank on captain Roger to guide them forward.
One of the most naturally gifted players in the game, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck now looms as the key man for the Warriors.
With Johnson’s departure, the Warriors will need their captain to use all his experience to set the tone and lay a foundation for the rest of the team.
Blessed with some of the quickest feet you will ever see in the game, Tuivasa-Sheck’s consistency and link-up play will help a Warriors side in many ways.
With a lot of pressure set to be placed upon a young gun in the halves, it will be up to RTS to make their transition into first-grade easier.
To chime in as a second or even third receiver if need be and allow the young gun time to develop as a player in the toughest league around.
With so much expectation on the Warriors and RTS, will he and the team swim for a second successive season or sink?
Gains and Losses
Gains: Jackson Frei (2019), Adam Keighran (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Lachlan Burr (Canterbury Bulldogs, 2020) and Leeson Ah Mau (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2021).
Losses: James Gavet and Mason Lino (both Newcastle Knights), Anthony Gelling (Widnes Vikings), Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks), Albert Vete (Melbourne Storm), Simon Mannering (retired) and Manaia Cherrington and Zac Santo (both released).
Player to Watch
With the likelihood that he starts the year for the Warriors rising, it should be no surprise that the man we will be watching is Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Impressing consistently for the Warriors Intrust Super Premiership side, a first-grade berth was destined at some point.
Although it may now come earlier than expected, he has all the tools to succeed and has maintained a strong level of play for much of his career to date.
With a veteran and composed half in Green alongside him, Harris-Tavita’s will not have to worry about setting the world alight straight away.
He can ease himself into the first-grade environment and identify which parts of his game will work with the most fluidity and freedom.
Those that do not, he can go back to work on them and develop his game further to become a key player for the Warriors moving forward.
NRL News Predicted Team
- Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (C)
- David Fusitu’a
- Solomone Kata
- Peta Hiku
- Ken Maumalo
- Blake Green
- Chanel Harris-Tavita
- Leeson Ah Mau
- Issac Luke
- Adam Blair
- Tohu Harris
- Isaiah Papali’i
- Agnatius Paasi
14. Jazz Tevaga
15. Bunty Afoa
16. Sam Lisone
17. Tevita Satae
Coach: Stephen Kearney