New Zealand Warriors 2006 season
preview

Likely squad: Brent Webb, Manu Vatuvai, Clinton Toopi, Tony Martin, Todd Byrne, Jerome Roparti, Nathan Fien, Steve Price, Lance Hohaia, Richard Villasanti, Ruben Wiki, Warraingi Koopu, Sione Faumuina
Interchange: Sonny Fai, Awen Guttenbeil, Louis Anderson, Michael Luck

Strengths:

The Warriors have the uncanny knack of developing some of the most ferocious forwards in the game. They have developed the likes of Joe Galuvao and Ali Lauitiiti and there is no doubt they will unearth two or three brand new prospects that we will just be awestruck by.

The appointment of Ivan Cleary to the head job at the Warriors will do wonders for them. He is a clever operator and a coach that will get his team into peak physical condition for the battles that lay ahead.

The Warriors forward pack is lethal to say the least. Spearheaded by Steve Price and Ruben Wiki, the Warriors pack has the ability to defeat anyone on any given day, if only they applied their natural abilities.

Weaknesses:

Well, starting the season on -4 points is going to be a huge challenge to overcome. The whole salary cap issues surrounding the Warriors recently will have an enormous affect the player?s morale and the team?s cohesion in training.

The inability of these players to remain consistent is quite ridiculous. With the talent at the Warriors, they should have the ability to compete at the highest level; however inconsistency and the inability to close a game when they grab a lead will need to be rectified for the Warriors to improve on last season.

The Warriors also are going through a transition period. They lost their inspiration and halfback in Stacey Jones, without buying an adequate replacement. Nathan Fien can only take them so far, and it?s not to a premiership.

The Warriors may have a lot of young talent at their disposal but they have a distinct lack of depth with regards to players with NRL experience. This could provide a distinct weakness for them and their progression in the competition this season.

The Warriors backline is not one to be feared. The lack of form at club level for Clinton Toopi and the injury-prone Tony Martin do not pose much of a threat to any opposition backline defences. However the departure of Francis Meli and the arrival of exciting talent Manu Vatuvai into the winger?s position will be of great benefit to the Warriors chances.



One to Watch:

Junior Kiwi and New Zealand Residents representative Sonny Fai is the young player to watch for the Warriors in 2006. Rated by Warriors coach Ivan Cleary as their top junior prospect, the super talented Fai is looking to make his debut in first grade in 2006. He has been touted by many as the Warriors Sonny Bill Williams, something that could be very exciting for NRL to see.

Remarkably Sonny Fai is still at the tender age of 17, but stands at 192cm tall and is 105kg. Many would think with his size he?d be slow, but while this young man possesses a massive frame, he is also very quick, with the ability to play centre, which he did on a number of occasions in Bartercard Cup last season. Fai is extremely versatile, being able to play the game-breaking centre, or the powerful ball-playing backrower. This is what sets him apart from other juniors in the Warriors? organisation.

Fai?s greatest attributes are his size and skill, but along with that he is very quick and has an incredible football brain. On a number of occasions in Bartercard Cup playing centre, he was able to sniff out game breaking opportunities, such as a crucial intercept, when to press in the defence or which line to run. He looks like he will have a massive future in the NRL and it will be a privilege to watch his progression

Gains and Losses:

Gains: Michael Luck, Grant Rovelli, George Gatis.

Losses: Stacey Jones, Monty Betham, Tevita Latu, Frances Meli, Karl Temata, Iafeta Paleaasina

Assessment:

I don?t believe the Warriors have what it takes to make the top 8 this year. Starting on -4 points for this season is a big hurdle to overcome in the early stages of the competition.

I also believe their recruitment was lacklustre for the calibre of players that left the club the loss of a New Zealand great will really affect their style of play this year. Stacey was a superb player for New Zealand and was responsible for big wins in big game situations. Something I feel that the Warriors lack this season.

My prediction is for the Warriors to finish between 13-15th this season and to recruit heavily for 07?.

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