GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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The hype is there. With many thanks to the recently played Auckland Nines competition, the wheels are most certainly moving on the Warriors rollercoaster that will take their fans through a completely unpredicatable season. This will be a sequel to their previous season no doubt. Matthew Elliott's men turned from the worst side in the competition to the best side in what seemed like very little time. The season could not have started any worse. I mean, how do you get much worse than a 40-10 loss to the eventual wooden spooners, the Parramatta Eels?
Well, getting beaten 62-6 in Round Ten would probably be a good enough answer. After the first ten weeks of the competition the Warriors had collected just a pair of wins. What happened in the next few weeks will no doubt be what spurs the fans on to hope that something amazing is certainly on the horizon.
Victory in seven of their next eight games had the Warriors threatening the competition. This included wins over eventual Grand Finalists Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters, the latter one being a rare win in the land of Oz. However they eventually turned back into the inconsistent side we all know and love, finishing two points outside the top eight in eleventh position.
The hype around the Warriors is most definitely growing this year. The hype and hope revolves around one big signing. The overseas signings for the Warriors have no doubt been some of their best. Greg Alexander and Steve Price - foreign players like these two gave Warriors fans many reasons to dream - and now the entrance of the exciting former Wigan Warriors fullback Sam Tomkins is giving the exact same feel. A man who has been described by the potentially biased English media as "our version to Billy Slater." His tryscoring record really does speak for itself - Tomkins touched down 144 times in just 151 first grade games for the Warriors... err... Wigan Warriors.
We all know that the National Rugby League is a completely different competition altogether. We had to dedicate a large section of this preview to Tomkins alone, because just like Sam Burgess and Sonny-Bill Williams before him, Tomkins' every move will be closely monitored and scrutinised by everybody. Hell, this is for someone who has yet to bag the fullback role for the Warriors. Glen Fisi'iahi and Kevin Locke will have something to say about this.
What we saw from the Warriors at the Nines proves a few things. They will be an attacking unit, providing the most exciting plays in the competition. Some of these young guns are starting to find their way. This is the twentieth season for the Warriors. Let's face it, they're not going into the competition as heavyweights, but as a legitimate darkhorse.
And let's face it, being the darkhorse is ideal for the Warriors. It really does bring out the best in them.
Where They Can Win It
If the Warriors are able to turn into this attacking team we all expect them to be, they should be able to do the undoable (is that even a word?). All they have to do is score more points than the opposition. It really is that simple. Believe me. Ask Laurie Daley, he'll tell you the same.
The combination between Sam Tomkins and Shaun Johnson will be the most talked about part of their arsenal, but the big crop of forwards coming through from the Holden Cup graduates, alongside their already formidable pack could prove to be exactly what they need to go that extra step.
Where They May Struggle
Simple as that.
The Warriors can't win in Australia, just like the Raiders can't win outside Canberra, just like Parramatta can't win anywhere. Managing just four wins away from home in 2013, this statistics will always stick around with them, continually applying unnessecary pressure. They need to hit that consistency that the big four teams in 2013 were able to hit. Whether the New Zealand Globetrotters can achieve this or not will remain to be seen.
The best player in the World Cup. The best player in the Auckland Nines. Shaun Johnson has a lot of fans right now. He is looking like he will not only capture that form that continually took the Warriors to any Grand Final that he was involved in, but he will top it, and become that match winner we all have been waiting to see.
Rookies To Watch
David Bhana has the attitude and the ability to crack the first grade squad in the next few seasons. During a sixteen day period in September he mixed playing three sudden death finals matches for the Vulcans and Warriors with nine flights back and forth for his studies. A constant achiever and hard worker, this dedication saw Bhana achieving high honours with studies and football. He will begin the new season in the top grade squad after a successful season as captain of the under-20s.
The Big Plays
Will that Tomkins-Johnson combination work as well as it did in the opening stages of the Auckland Nines? Can those forwards gel? Where will Thomas Leuluai play? Will Sione Lousi ever get a haircut? Will Vatuvei play with his rock collection or his diamond collection? Will Matthew Elliott survive the year? Will Daryl Halligan ever shut the fu
Likely Team - Round One
1. Sam Tomkins 2. Kevin Locke 3. Konrad Hurrell 4. Dane Nielsen 5. Manu Vatuvei 6. Thomas Leuluai 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Sam Rapira 9. Nathan Friend 10. Suaia Matagi 11. Feleti Mateo 12. Jayson Bukuya 13. Simon Mannering (c)
Interchange: 14. Ben Henry 15. Ben Matulino 16. Jacob Lillyman 17. Charlie Gubb