How will the New Zealand Warriors
perform in 2005...

A topic in hot debate at the moment with Warriors fans and not many others, is how the Warriors will do in season 2005. The Warriors have been written off by "those not in the know", even by some die-hard fans. But there are those among us that think 2005 is going to take the Warriors back up to where they should be and that's near the top of the table.

To get back to the top, you need to have some top players in the mix. The Warriors embarked on an aggresive recruitment drive in 2004 and sneered 2 big name forwards in Bulldogs captain, Steve Price and Canberra hardman Ruben Wiki. They also picked up a player who came into his own late in the season in the halves and nearly made the grand final with the Cowboys, Nathan Fien. The Warriors were also lucky to get the signature of Todd Byrne from the Roosters. If anything, this recruitment drive could end up being the masterstroke and the major factor for the Warriors to succeed in 2005.

Having spent up large for the 2005 season, the Warriors knew they would have to do some "deck clearing". Ali Lauiti'iti, PJ Marsh, Henry Faafili, Mark Tookey, Justin Murphy, Thomas Leuluai just to name a few will not be present on the '05 roster. Some were big names, some were regular starters and the rest were dead wood.

For the Warriors to be successful, they need to exorcise some demons from 2004 and one of them in particular haunted them. Lack of fitness, a phrase you would never hope to use to describe a professional sports teams' problems, but I just did. Not the sort of "lack of fitness" us mere mortals would relate to, but a different kind. A kind that results from too much strength and weights work on the lower body and to the lesser extent the upper body. You can have as bigger legs as you like, but you've got to be able to move them. This major problem seems to eclipse all the other problems the Warriors had during '04. The "minor" problems included lack of go forward, the non-performances from our halves and of course the disruption created by ushering in a new coach in the middle of the season.

A pleasing sign for the new season is that the new Warriors coaching staff have enforced a rigorous training regime, to address the fitness problems and to get the team to a more optimum level of fitness. With Tony Kemp, Ivan Cleary, Kevin Campion on board, the Warriors have a new look coaching staff to fit with the new look of the team.

With the recruiting done, the coaching staff rearranged and the fitness problems being addressed, the Warriors seem to be on track for turning their fortunes around. But it's what they need to do on the field that will be the deciding factor. Steve Price & Ruben Wiki will bolster and lift the forward pack to another level, no doubt about it. If Nathan Fien continues with his late form from '04, he will certainly help out either in the halves or at hooker. Todd Byrne will provide some "aussie experience" in the backs that the Warriors always seem to need.

But the new signings will certainly not be expected to carry the team. It's the old heads that need to step up to the plate in '05. And all eyes will be on one old head in particular, Stacey Jones. 2004 was a year to forget for Stacey Jones and he will be looking to the 2005 season for rectification of his old form. It seems that the forwards will definitely be going forward so the team will need direction around the park. But responsiblity will fall on the #6 too. Fien will most likely be wearing the #9 jersey so the job is left to the likes of Lance Hohaia or Jerome Ropati who need to step up. With young Thomas Leuluai gone, Ropati could find himself with more of a chance to cement a place.

So all eyes will be on the two areas, the Forward pack and the Halves. Let's just hope the backs follow their lead. Knowing the Warriors, nothing will ever be plain sailing. But let's hope the Warriors get their spinnaker up early and not break the mast in the process. 'Tis the season to be winning.

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