While the New Zealand Warriors will remain displaced for the first half of the season, a makeshift home in Redcliffe should help the Warriors find some stability they have lacked since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Warriors suffered their second straight nomadic season that provided inconsistency in their play, with the gap between their best and their worst arguably the biggest in the competition.
They started the season relatively well, heading into the bye with five wins and seven losses, sitting in ninth position on the ladder and ready for a big finish to the season.
However that didn’t come, as they only won three of their final 12 games to slump to 12th on the ladder.
The Warriors inability to win the close games was another factor in seeing them fail to make the finals. Half of their losses for the season (8), were by six points or less.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Warriors in 2021, they were unable to unearth a couple of key players for the future.
Prodigious young fullback Reece Walsh starred in his first season with the club scoring nine tries, 11 try assists and averaged 119 run metres a game in his 16 appearances for the the club.
Young forward Josh Curran also showed promising signs in his first string of games at first grade level, scoring four tries and averaging 79 run metres a game in his 14 appearances.
Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks), Aaron Pene (Melbourne Storm), Ashley Taylor (Gold Coast Titans), Jesse Arthars (Brisbane Broncos)
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (NZ Rugby Union), Chad Townsend (North Queensland Cowboys), Kane Evans (Hull FC), Leeson Ah Mau (retired), David Fusitu’a (Leeds), Sean O’Sullivan (Panthers), Paul Turner (Titans), Peta Hiku (Cowboys), Jamayne Taunoa-Brown (Cowboys)
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With a new home for this season at Redcliffe, the Warriors have settled into life on the Sunshine Coast.
New captain Tohu Harris is progressing well in his return from an ACL injury, but he still won’t see any action until May.
Ben Murdoch-Masila, Bunty Afoa and Taniela Otukolo have all had an injury interrupted preparation but should be read to go for round one.
Former centre Euan Aitken has beefed up over the summer to play permanently in the second row and provide the Warriors with some much needed strike power on the edge.
The one position that has been the most contentious over the preseason has been Shaun Johnson’s halves partner.
With the recruitment of former Gold Coast Titans veteran Ashley Taylor the mix that coach Nathan Brown goes with will be interesting.
Whilst Taylor provides some much needed experience the younger duo of Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita provide a flair that will partner well with Johnson’s dependability.
What to expect
With Johnson’s return to the club the Warriors should be looking to capitalise on the potential of some of their younger playmakers.
If Johnson can provide the cool head who can be effective with their fifth tackle options, especially in tight games, the Warriors will be around the mark come the end of the season.
On paper the Warriors backline is as potent as any with the likes of Walsh, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Marcelo Montoya proven try scorers. If Johnson can put them in good positions expect the Warriors points output to increase.
It’s a big year for?
Heading into his fourth season in the Warriors top 30 squad Harris-Tavita is about to enter the prime of his career, with a lot of unknowns around his future.
The 22-year-old is out of contract at the end of 2022 and could be forced out of the Warriors at the end of the season with the impending arrival of Sharks halfback Luke Metcalf.
Harris-Tavita possess all the skills to take the next step in his career and has shown glimpses in his 37 first grade appearances.
However, if he wishes to become a staple at first grade in the future he needs to show some consistency in his game in 2022.
Biggest unanswered question
Can they hold out for a return to Mt Smart?
Winning a premiership requires everything to go right, even making finals in the modern day requires you to do most things right.
Injuries and poor form are part and parcel of any professional sport, but having to relocate to another country to keep playing is something else entirely.
The Warriors will enter their third season on the road in 2022, leaving them with a monumental task if they are to make the finals.
However, with border restrictions easing there is now light at the end of the tunnel for the Warriors and their fans, but they still need to hold until the later rounds of the year.
Brown will have a very simple message for his team this season, do what you can to be in the hunt for a finals position and use the favourable run of home games late in the season to finally play some finals action.
A rugby loving country that has been deprived of seeing their team play for over two years, the New Zealand crowd may just give the Warriors the extra boost they need.
Coach pressure index
After only season at the helm Brown still has time to prove himself at the Warriors.
The 48-year-old is contracted until the end of 2023, and shouldn’t face any real heat on his job until the team can return and settle back into to New Zealand.
Despite no immediate threat on his job this season will decide how thin the ice will be from next season.
If the Warriors don’t win more of the close games and put themselves amongst the mix of teams competing for seventh and eighth it might not take much for Brown’s position to come under scrutiny in 2023.
Predicted round one lineup
Walsh and Matt Lodge will be serving suspensions in their first round match up against the Dragons.
Harris-Tavita will step into in the fullback jersey, while Bunty Afoa could graduate from the bench to fill in for Lodge.
Young back Rocco Berry looks set to step up in the centres after the departure of Peta Hiku, and Curran should start at lock for the injured Harris.
Another year on the road means it will be tough for the Warriors to feature in this years finals series.
However, if they can look to lay the platform for success upon their return to Mt Smart, then that might be all they need to class this year as a success.
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