2021 Season Review: New Zealand Warriors – A fight to the bitter end

Warriors celebrating a try. Photo: NRL.com

Entering the season the New Zealand Warriors had high expectations of hopefully returning to the top eight, however, injuries and a struggle with life on the road derailed yet another season.

Off the back of a heavy recruiting drive and a new coach in Nathan Brown, the Warriors looked poised to make their fourth finals series since 2010.

Despite not meeting expectations there were still plenty of positives to take out of the season as the Warriors look to build and retain their young core.

The Inner Sanctum looks at a year in a review for the New Zealand Warriors.

What worked?

Not much went right for the Warriors this season but the stats they were good in further indicated their plight.

The Warriors were fourth for post-contact metres after the regular season with 13,261 metres showing how damaging their forward pack can be when fully fit.

Another positive for the Warriors was their ability to blood and develop their young talent.

Exciting young fullback Reece Walsh made 16 appearances, Rocco Berry managed eight games, Edward Kosi played five, while Josh Curran added 14 games.

It was a positive sign for the Warriors to have key young talent step up and and play some first grade action, holding not only the player but the team in good stead moving forward.

What didn’t?

The Warriors were decimated by injuries to key players this season, especially in their forward pack, as key pieces missed games at various times.

Players such as star recruit Addin Fonua-Blake (15 games), Ben Murdoch-Masilla (14 games), Tohu Harris (15 games) and Leeson Ah Mau (18 games) were some of the first picked forward pack that struggled to stay out on the park.

With key players out the Warriors began to struggle in other areas, mainly scoring.

The Warriors struggled to break through opposition defences and put scoreboard pressure on their opponents, only scoring 80 tries and 453 points for the season.

While those numbers are a slight improvement from last season it is still a stat that leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Warriors fans with potential abounding from their current squad.

Who impressed?

Walsh starred in his first season of first grade and his form softened the blow of the departure of skipper and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

In his 16 appearances he showed off his scoring prowess scoring nine tries and kicking 21 goals at 70 per cent, he also showed of his playmaking and running abilities with 11 try assists, 53 tackle breaks, 14 line breaks and 1,917 running metres.

The 19-year-old fullback was also extremely close to earning his first State of Origin jersey in game two, before a hamstring injury cruelly sidelined him.

While he has big shoes to fill Walsh showed he has the potential to be one of the best fullbacks in the league.

At the opposite end of the spine, hooker Wayde Egan had a career best season in his second year in a Warriors jersey.

He scored three tries, set up a further eight, laid 818 tackles and had 1,805 receipts. Egan provided much needed stability in the forward pack that struggled for consistency

Despite missing a chunk of games this season, Fonua-Blake showed glimpses of what he can provide for the Warriors when fully fit.

He had 33 tackle breaks, 1,124 post contact metres and 2,409 running metres, all on par with some of his career best seasons.

If Fonua-Blake can remain fit for 2022 he could be huge threat for the Warriors and their young and dangerous outside backs.

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Season highlight

Despite a one point loss to the North Queensland Cowboys, the Warriors season highlight came in their round 12 match up, where young fullback Reece Walsh thrust his name into State of Origin selection.

In his second game as the permanent fullback, Walsh showed off all facets of his game scoring a try, running for 227 metres while having a line break assist and a try assist.

With Maroons incumbent fullback Kalyn Ponga ruled of the first State of Origin, and possibly the second, pundits were looking for a left-field solution to Queensland’s fullback woes.

While the Gold Coast Titans AJ Brimson got the nod in game one, it was this game that helped propel Walsh into the squad for game two.

Season lowlight

With nothing on the line but pride in the last game of the season the Warriors put up a dismal performance against a Gold Coast Titans team who were desperate to make the top eight.

The Warriors defence was under pressure from the start of the game as Jayden Campbell crossed for the first try at the six minute mark of the game.

The pressure from the Titans was unrelenting as they forced five line dropouts, had 708 post contact metres and nine linebreaks.

While the defence was under pressure the Warriors offence looked impotent, as they struggled to find field position and break through the Titans defence.

To add insult to injury the Warriors also had three players in the sin bin at one point with Jazz Tevaga sent off at the 64 minute mark while Kane Evans and Matt Lodge were sent off at the 65 minute mark after engaging in a brawl.

It was a devastating way to end such an underwhelming season.

Number one off-season priority

The Warriors number one off-season priority is to stay injury free and build cohesion.

A lot has changed at the Warriors during the season with the mid-season signings of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak from the Bulldogs and Lodge from the Broncos, along with the host of other signings from the season before, Brown has a lot of work to do to build the squads cohesion.

The recruitment of Shaun Johnson from the Sharks further strengthens the Warriors young spine but Brown will be looking for someone to nail down the number six jersey as well in the offseason.

Ultimately it will come down to good management and a little bit of luck this offseason as Brown and his fitness staff try to build up those players who missed with injury this season to ensure they remain durable next year.

Way too early best 17 for 2022

After a heavy recruiting drive last year the Warriors should go into next season without many major changes, with Johnson being the only notable one so far.

Rumour is circulating that Chanel Harris-Tavita could be looking for a new home before the start of next season with the Warriors yet to offer the young five-eighth a contract for next year, meaning the number six jersey could be in even more doubt.

Final say

The Warriors have had a season to forget in 2021, but fans will be hoping they will be able to grow and move on into next year and finally deliver on this years preseason hype.

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