25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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If you are looking for the text book definition of enigma, read on. The New Zealand Warriors are it. A team that can blow any other team away on their day but can also lose to the cellar dwellers at home with their best side on the park.
This is a team that makes me scratch my head more than my last case of head lice. And believe me, my last case was shocking. The Warriors, most people believe are on the rise and are poised to make a serious run at the title and secure their first grand final berth since 2002, when they were beaten by the Roosters.
The Warriors have gained the services of two of the most enigmatic players in the NRL (Kris Inu and Feleti Mateo) to push their premiership barrow and of course it makes sense they would sign with the Warriors. It's just adds to the complexity of the New Zealand Warriors. I think the addition of Inu and Mateo ultimately makes the Warriors a far more imposing side on paper. Inu can kick goals and Mateo arguably has the best ball skills in traffic of any player in the NRL. Both have, at times, struggled to find consistent form and this is the roll of the dice the Warriors have taken by signing the former Eels.
Brent Tate has gone to the Cowboys but is unlikely to see any action this year after requiring yet another knee reconstruction after injuring his knee during the Tri Nations campaign last year.
The big upside for the Warriors is the fact the Kiwis won the Tri Nations and you would have to think that would galvanise support for the Warriors across the nation.
James Maloney was a revelation for the Warriors and gave them security in the halves, an area the Warriors have continually struggled with since the retirement of the great Stacey Jones.
Then there is Manu. The NRL's most destructive player without a doubt. He is a joy to watch when in full flight and will steam roll any player (even Josh Dugan) on his way to the try line. If Manu stays fit then he has a 20 try season ahead of him. He has improved under the high ball and he genuinely enjoys his footy and loves to show it. The game needs more Manu's, especially in NZ.
Kevin Locke, one of the fastest players in the NRL is set to take on the role of custodian for the Warriors. The jury is out on this move for me. Lance Hohaia has made this spot his own and has become very reliable for the Warriors at the back.
The Warriors have also secured the services of former Bronco Shaun Berrigan and his experience will be a major boost for the Warriors. He has great utility value and will more than likely start from the bench to give the Warriors a boost at the back end of each half. Yes, Berrigan is 32 but I believe this is an astute signing by the Warriors.
Experienced campaigners such as Micheal Luck, Simon Mannering and Lance Hohaia will provide guidance in the tight matches when youthful exuberance can take over and lead to mistakes that can cost the Warriors the game.
If the Warriors can find consistency and win away from home against teams they are expected to beat, they should finish in the top four. They have size, speed and aggression in abundance but it is guile and cunning that will take them to the promised land.
Many people thought Ivan Cleary needed to be committed for taking on such an unpredictable team but I believe he has instilled a winning culture at the club and the success of the Warriors can pave the way for a second New Zealand team, something that is vitally important for the long term future of the NRL.
For the Warriors, the world is their oyster. They have all the parts to make the ultimate rugby league machine. Let's hope they don't forget the grease and oil changes needed to keep this machine running smoothly.
Player to Watch: Feleti Mateo
The obvious choice. Such an enigmatic player but also incredibly gifted with the ball in hand. He can single handedly win or lose you a match through his passing. When he's on and he gets the miracle ball away, he's a game changer. When he throws a speculator, he can cost you dearly if it doesn't come off so in that sense he's a game changer. Still, you'd rather have him in your side than not at all and with a dominant pack and good backs, He will flourish under Ivan Cleary and is the player that can take the Warriors deep into the finals.
Rookie to Watch: Glen Fisiiahi
After being introduced to the league-loving public last year in embarrassing circumstances (search Youtube for 'Fisiiahi' and you'll know what we mean), this youngster has already come ahead in leaps and bounds. A standout performer during the Warriors' Toyota Cup premiership season, the young man they call "The Fish" has already impressed with plenty of spark in the pre-season and will be pressing for a first grade spot the moment an injury comes up in the first seventeen.
Best lineup: 1. Kevin Locke 2. Manu Vatuvei 3. Jerome Ropati 4. Joel Moon 5. Krisnan Inu 6. Brett Seymour 7. James Maloney 13. Feleti Mateo 12. Simon Mannering 11. Micheal Luck 10. Sam Rapira 9. Aaron Heremaia 8. Russell Packer
Interchange: 14. Shaun Berrigan 15. Ben Matulino 16. Lewis Brown 17. Jacob Lilyman
Round 1 v Eels (H)
Round 2 v Tigers (A)
Round 3 v Dragons (H)
Round 4 v Sharks (A)
Round 5 v Roosters (H)
Round 6 v Manly (A)
Round 7 v Storm (A)
Round 8 v Panthers (H)
Round 9 v Titans (H)
Round 10 v Knights (A)
Round 11 v Rabbitohs (H)
Round 12 BYE
Round 13 v Roosters (A)
Round 14 v Tigers (H)
Round 15 v Cowboys (A)
Round 16 v Storm (H)
Round 17 BYE
Round 18 v Titans (A)
Round 19 v Bulldogs (H)
Round 20 v Rabbitohs (A)
Round 21 v Raiders (H)
Round 22 v Broncos (A)
Round 23 v Knights (H)
Round 24 v Panthers (A)
Round 25 v Dragons (A)
Round 26 v Cowboys (A)