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Season 2007 looked promising for Vodafone Warriors fans and the faithful were rewarded with a season of great football and a glimpse of the future with the inclusion of the Vodafone Auckland Lions into the NSWRL Premier league.
With a season scoreboard of 13 wins, 1 draw and 10 losses the Warriors coaching staff and management backed up their pre season prediction that "we'll be there at the end" by finishing a very creditable 4th on the table and advancing to the finals series.
The drama of the previous years salary cap fiasco were well and truly put behind them and the team and coaches were able to concentrate on what they are good at, playing footy.
Credit goes to coach Ivan Cleary and his assistant, John Ackland for sticking to their plans and showing loyalty to the players despite a ruthless media flogging during 6 game losing streak mid season.
The boys came right and there was only one direction.
The inclusion of the Lions into the NSWRL Premier League promised much but the reality was that they delivered little constructive to the First Grade team.
My only real criticism of the club this year is the way the Lions were managed, it was almost as though they were the "punishment team", i.e. if Warriors members didn't play to form, they were demoted to the Lions. There was little (if any) promotion from the Lions to the Warriors.
Steve Price was an absolute standout for the team this year. The 33 yr old veteran was named Dally M Prop of the year as well as picking up the coveted Dally M Captain of the year at the NRL's end of season awards.
Couple that with the NZRL asking Steve to represent Dally Messenger in the All Gold's re-enactment of the inaugural International test match is testament to the respect and mana we have for Pricey on this side of the ditch.
On the other end of the scale, the player who disappointed me was our halfback, Grant Rovelli. 'Ravs' promised great things for the team the previous season, picking up the clubs rookie of the year award, yet seemingly losing his way as the season progressed. A stint in Premier League seemed to snap him out of a general form slump (and to be fair to Rovelli, the whole squad was not firing as they should have) and the latter half of the season was better for Ravs. A great clubman, we hope his enthusiasm for next year is at an all time high as the #7 position just hasn't quite been the same since Stacey Jones went to France. Perhaps we should stop comparing Grant to Stacey?
The Warriors did not have a rookie for season 07! To a lot of fans this came as a big surprise as the Lions have a great array of talent running around just waiting to be "discovered". Our best signing was the much maligned (by some) Aussie, Michael Witt. He filled the vacant spot of injured 5/8, Jerome Ropati and cemented his place in the team with some inventive attack and rock solid defense. When Ropati returned, coach Cleary was forced to rearrange the team dynamics and kept Witt at #6 and shifted Ropati out to the centers, where he seemed more at home.
A lot of Warriors impressed this season but none more so for me than 2nd row forward, Michael Luck. Selected as the Queensland 18th man for State of Origin, Lucks on-field consistency will go down as a popular talking point for the fans.
Every win this year was a great win, but the game that stood out for me was the Rd 2 game V the defending Premiers, the Broncos. A fantastic game to watch and it showed an early indication of what the season promised with an emphatic 24-14 victory over our mates from Brisbane.
Another great game, though closer with Toddy Byrne scoring a last minute try to clinch victory over a resurgent and courageous South Sydney Rabbitohs 18-16 in Sydney.
The loss that hurt the most for me was the rd 23 clash with the Canberra Raiders, going down 24-26 to a 'never say die' Raiders outfit. The loss was a huge dent in our plans for a top 4 spot.
With the signing of yet another hooker, Englishman Ian Hendersen, and the clubs big signing, Brent Tate, season 2008 looks bigger and better than ever. Combined with Auckland Lions stars, Sonny Fai, Constantine Mika and hugely talented young prop, Russell Packer, the club and the fans expectations will be high for another finals berth next year. These signings will more than compensate for the losses of Tony Martin, Louie Anderson, Georgie Gatis and Todd Byrne who served the Warriors well.
With an International tour in progress, a World Cup on the horizon and a classy looking Warriors squad preparing over the coming summers months, this fan is optimistic.