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2007 season preview: New Zealand Warriors
Finishing 10th in the 2006 NRL season could only leave on the lips of the management, players, and supporters, those two big words ' What if?'
To start the season on -4 points and to come so tantalizingly close to the Top 8 (only 4 points away) at the end of the season was a huge effort by the players and the staff throughout the year.
Under the guidance of rookie NRL coach Ivan Cleary, a lot of new faces appeared on the scene in 2006 for the Warriors and coach Cleary will now build on the foundation he has set down for the young players coming through in 2007.
Faces like former Premier League Roosters halfback Grant Rovelli, now a permanent position as the starting halfback for the team. Patrick Ah Van is another youngster who proved his worth both on defence and attack.
With the loss of Brent Webb and Awen Guttenbeil especially, the task was a big one to bring in experience and talent to fill the gaps.
The return of Logan Swann from the ESL competition was a surprise to many, however his experience will be welcomed I'm sure.
The inclusion of Wade McKinnon into the squad for the fullback position fills a huge hole left by Webb. The first up game against his old club the Eels, will be a telling time both for him, and the fans who couldn't fathom the reasons behind the release of Brent Webb.
New signing Michael Witt should add some depth into the halves combination with Rovelli, something that was lacking in 2006. With speedster Michael Crockett joining the backs, along with Aiden Kirk, there will be a lot of pace for Cleary to play around with.
Under the leadership yet again of Stephen Price, coupled with the stability of Wiki and Swann and Koopu, the younger forwards will benefit hugely especially as most of the youngster were all given a taste of first grade in 2006.
With the addition of the Auckland Lions into the NSWRL Premier League competition, no doubt a few of the Warriors young guns will get a taste of week in, week out hard game time which can only be beneficial in the long run for the Club.
The fan days are back, the cheerleaders are back so once again 2007 promises to be a huge season for the Vodafone Warriors. If they continue on from where they left off in 2006, the rewards will be there at the end of Round 26. And hopefully the home crowds.
Gains: Wade McKinnon (Parramatta Eels), Aiden Kirk (Sydney Roosters), Michael Witt (Manly Sea Eagles), Michael Crockett (Wests Tigers)
Losses: Clinton Toopi (Leeds Rhinos), Brent Webb (Leeds Rhinos), Richard Villasanti (Released mid Season - signed by Cronulla Sharks), Misi Taulapapa (Released Mid Season), Awen Guttenbeil (Castleford Tigers - coaching), Sione Faumuina ( North Queensland Cowboys)
Full squad: Patrick Ah Van, Louis Anderson, Todd Byrne, Michael Crockett, Sonny Fai, Nathan Fien, George Gatis, Roman Hifo, Lance Hohaia, Isaac John, Scott Jones, Aidan Kirk, Wairangi Koopu, Epalahame Lauaki, Corey Lawrie, Micheal Luck, Wayne McDade, Wade McKinnon, Simon Mannering, Tony Martin, Constantine Mika, Daniel O'Regan, Russell Packer, Steve Price, Sam Rapira, Jerome Ropati, Grant Rovelli, Malo Solomona, Miguel Start, Logan Swann, Evarn Tuimavave, Manu Vatuvei, Cooper Vuna, Ruben Wiki, Michael Witt .
Likely team, Round 1: 1. Wade McKinnon 2. Manu Vatuvei 3. Jerome Ropati 4. Simon Mannering 5. Patrick Ah Van 6. Michael Witt 7. Grant Rovelli 8. Ruben Wiki 9 Nathan Fein 10. Steven Price (c) 11. Logan Swann 12. Michael Luck 13. Louis Anderson
14. Michael Crockett 15. Lance Hohaia 16. Wairangi Koopu 17. Epalahame Lauaki
Saturday, 3rd March 2007 Warriors v Bulldogs North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Auckland 7.30pm (NZ)