2018 Review: Warriors

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Our 2018 review series looking at all 16 NRL clubs moves into the top eight today with our ninth look back - this time the Warriors come under the microscope. A season of improvement, but not quite enough, writes Josh Robertson.

Tipped to be amongst the bottom eight of the NRL in 2018, the Warriors defied all expectations and finally showed what everyone wanted from the New Zealand-based side, an outfit who could attack brilliantly - but actually match that effort  with their defence.

The 2018 season saw a shake up of the Warriors squad with coach Stephen Kearney electing to bring in eight new faces which included influential forwards Adam Blair and Tohu Harris from the Broncos and Storm respectively. They also added fellow New Zealand internationals Gerard Beale and Peta Hiku, both brought into the club to strengthen the backline depth at the club, with both players being called on by coach Stephen Kearney at various points throughout the year.

If we're honest the Warriors weren't expected to upset the high flyers of the competition yet again in 2018 however they stamped their mark in Round 1, showing their new team had already clicked well when they took their first ever win in Perth - a comprehensive 32-20 victory over South Sydney. They continued to defy expectations, going undefeated in their first five games - which included a 30-6 demolition of eventual premiers the Roosters at Allianz Stadium. The streak was broken with a loss to the Broncos, however just a week later they ended the six-game winning streak of the Dragons.

It all came crashing down when they faced the full brunt of the Melbourne Storm on ANZAC Day, their opponents able to put 50 points past the Warriors. From that point, the side was beginning to struggle with consistency, only putting back to back wins together in Rounds 14 and 15. Questions started to grow over the Warriors credentials, and things came to a head for them in Round 17 when they travelled to take on the Panthers at Penrith, who themselves were heavily weakened due to Origin call-ups and injuries. The Warriors looked certainties to win, but were delivered a huge reality check with a 36-4 loss - and even then were only able to post a late consolation try.

To their credit, they bounced back from the defeat against the Panthers with a quality win over the Broncos the following week, however questions remained as they continued to slide down the ladder with losses against the Storm at home, and even more concerning another big loss against the Titans. The rollercoaster continued through the later rounds - managing to gain some late season form winning four of their last five games with just one defeat coming, in Golden Point against the Bulldogs. The late surge ensured the Warriors finished the regular season in eighth spot in a logjammed top eight, meaning a trip back to Sydney to take on the Panthers in the first elimination final was in order. The Warriors opened up a 12-2 lead, but when the Panthers got going the Warriors couldn't match it and their 2018 campaign ended with a 27-12 defeat.

Turning point

The turning point of the Warriors season came in Round 17 against Penrith, who would be the ultimate architects of their downfall. Following that loss, pundits started to again question the Warriors' consistency and their premiership credentials as the race for the finals heated up. The Warriors had slipped from being in the top four and down to eighth on the ladder, and their points differential had slipped into the negatives. The game that the Warriors were expected to win ultimately became their downfall, seeing them essentially anchored to 8th spot for the remainder of the season as the teams above them continued to grow late in the season.

What worked

The biggest thing that worked for the Warriors in 2018 was the experience of their forward pack taking them upfield. The Warriors always have had one of the biggest packs in the NRL, however they have never been able to capitalise on their strength. In 2018, Kearney was able to get the best out of his forwards and they were a big part of their attacking prowess. The impact of Blair and Harris was ultra-important for the Warriors with the experienced heads bringing a sense of stability to the sides younger forwards, namely Isaiah Papali'i and Bunty Afoa.

What didn't

Key players not standing up. Shaun Johnson comes in for plenty of criticism at times for going "missing" at times, and yet again in 2018 despite all the improvements across the squad, key players including Johnson were missing in action when needed most. The elimination final against the Panthers is a key example - Penrith were ahead on the scoreboard coming out from half time but they weren't out of reach by any stretch of the imagination - but nobody seemed to stand up for the Warriors to get them out of the situation. This wasn't an isolated incident; key men often went missing at various stages of the season, notably in the Round 17 loss against Penrith, and against the Titans in Round 20.

Best player

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - The Warriors fullback was not only the best player in the Warriors side, he was the best player in the competition when he became the first Warriors player to win the Dally M medal in 2018. Tuivasa-Sheck was a key part of the club's successes in 2018, combining with Johnson and Blake Green, creating a potent attack which consistently left defences in two minds. Although RTS scored just three tries himself in 2018, he had 8 try assists and 13 line breaks. His running metres from the back was just as important with an average of just under 180m per match.

Winger David Fusitua deserves a mention in this section as well, finishing as the NRL's top try scorer with 23 tries for the season.

Rookies

Still eligible for the Jersey Flegg competition, Isaiah Papali'I became a regular in the Warriors squad in 2018, and was putting fear into the defence after having played a handful of NRL matches in 2017. The bustling forward was strong with the ball this year, making good metres in possession and crossing the stripe three times this season. The defence of the 19 year old was significant as well making 580 tackles in the season at a tackling efficiency of 90.6%.

Isaiah Papali'I was also apart of one of the feel-good stories of 2018, when in the Warriors elimination final he took the field on the same day that his mother played in the inaugural NRLW match at ANZ Stadium - the first mother/son combination to play in the NRL.

Club round-up

The Warriors gained a licence to appear as one of the inaugural Holden NRL Women's Premiership clubs in 2018, and their three-match campaign started brightly in September when they accounted for the Roosters on a damp and gloomy afternoon at ANZ Stadium in Round 1. Unfortunately as the weather improved over the following fortnight, the Warriors' women's side was roundly beaten by the Dragons and Broncos over consecutive weeks, falling short of a Grand Final berth.

Like the men's NRL side, the Warriors' season came to an end in the first week of the finals in the NSWRL Intrust Super Premiership. The Warriors finished fifth but were defeated by Mounties in Week 1 of the finals.

Meanwhile, the Warriors had a less than successful season in the Jersey Flegg Cup, finishing tenth with just six wins from their 24 games. LeagueUnlimited.com understands the Warriors intend to withdraw from the NSWRL Under 20's competition in 2019 to focus on junior development in local leagues.

Looking ahead

The Warriors have had the advantage of not being one of the sides on the coaching merry-go-round in 2018, and head into 2019 with a relatively stable squad, with just one signing thus far - Leeson Ah Mau coming back home from the Dragons, with three key squad losses - Anthony Gelling, who returns to England after little game time in 2018; Mason Lino, who makes the move to the Hunter; and the retirement of season veteran Simon Mannering, after whom the club's player of the year medal is now named. Much of the focus through the coming weeks as the player market heats up will be on off-contract half Shaun Johnson, however Warriors fans will hopeful the club's management can come to an agreement to retain the representative star.

The framework for success is there for the Warriors, but it will be a question of whether the squad have it in them to be able to put a consistent season together. Stability in the coaches box and across the squad will be the perfect key if the Warriors are to go forward in 2018.

Potential 2019 line up

based on current signings

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. David Fusitua
3. Gerard Beale
4. Ken Maumalo
5. David Fusitua
6. Blake Green
7. Shaun Johnson
8. James Gavet
9. Issac Luke
10. Agnatius Paasi
11. Adam Blair
12. Tohu Harris
13. Leeson Ah Mau

14. Jazz Tevaga
15. Bunty Afoa
16. Isaiah Papali'i
17. Peta Hiku

2018 Results

1
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20
Warriors 32
W
2
Warriors 20
Gold Coast Titans 8
W
3
Canberra Raiders 19
Warriors 20
W
4
Sydney Roosters 6
Warriors 30
W
5
Warriors 22
North Queensland Cowboys 12
W
6
Warriors 18
Brisbane Broncos 27
L
7
Warriors 20
St George Illawarra Dragons 12
W
8
Melbourne Storm 50
Warriors 10
L
9
Warriors 26
Wests Tigers 4
W
10
Warriors 0
Sydney Roosters 32
L
11
Parramatta Eels 14
Warriors 24
W
12
Warriors 10
South Sydney Rabbitohs 30
L
13
Warriors 0
BYE
14
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 14
Warriors 34
W
15
North Queensland Cowboys 16
Warriors 23
W
16
Warriors 15
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18
L
17
Penrith Panthers 36
Warriors 4
L
18
Brisbane Broncos 6
Warriors 26
W
19
Warriors 6
Melbourne Storm 12
L
20
Gold Coast Titans 36
Warriors 12
L
21
St George Illawarra Dragons 12
Warriors 18
W
22
Warriors 20
Newcastle Knights 4
W
23
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 27
Warriors 26
L
24
Warriors 36
Penrith Panthers 16
W
25
Warriors 20
Canberra Raiders 16
W
Finals Week 1
Penrith Panthers 27
Warriors 12
L

By the Stats

32
Competition Points
15
Matches Won
0
Matches Drawn
9
Matches Lost
472
Points Scored
447
Points Conceded