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The Warriors went back to being ?Worriers? in 2004 as they stumbled their way through internal rifts, sackings, resignations and several humiliating defeats.
Big things were expected at the start of the season for a club who had been preliminary finalists in 2003 and runners up the year before, but the Warriors began the season poorly and never recovered. Five losses from the first six games mounted pressure on Coach Daniel Anderson. Rumours of ill-feeling within the camp between Anderson and his players did not help matters.
When halfback Stacey Jones stood himself down from New Zealand selection for April?s Anzac test, there were rumours of a breakdown in communication between Anderson and his senior players. On April 26 big second rower Ali Lauitiiti was released from his contract. Lauitiiti had not been able to recapture his devastating 2002 form since an arm injury saw him miss most of 2003 and he was missing the commitment required to help lift the Warriors out of their slump. He left for English club Leeds.
Daniel Anderson resigned in early June with former Kiwi test five eighth Tony Kemp stepping in as head coach. The Warriors responded quickly with a 20-14 home win against Canberra. However in the long run, the results barely improved with the change of coach.
The Warriors defence reached new lows in 2004, conceding 40 points or more on 7 separate occasions. A 4-50 capitulation to the Wests Tigers in front of a rain drenched crowd at Westpac Trust Stadium in Wellington was one of their poorest efforts.
Several players who starred in 2003 never got going in 2004. Francis Meli looked lost at times on the wing. Clinton Toopi?s experimentation with hairstyles couldn?t disguise his below par form in the centres. Stacey Jones looked only a shadow of the player that scored one of the great grand final tries in the 2002 Grand Final against the Roosters.
The Warriors were their own worst enemy due to their poor ball control. They had the worst completion rate in the NRL and the most handling errors per game. They also lacked discipline. At times they looked more interesting in fighting than playing. A key reason for these follies was the lack of leadership in the squad, a void which the Warriors management moved quickly to address for 2005.
The signings of Steven Price and Ruben Wiki should add some much needed leadership and forward drive to a team who badly needs it. Nathan Fien also looks to be a good signing, with his ability to play in the halves or the hooking role.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Unusually it was in a loss that I was most impressed by them in 2004. They only went down to the Roosters by six points in Round 25 and rediscovered some of their attacking flair, as well as some of their mongrel in defence. Awen Guttenbiel?s fierce hit on Ned Catic was more like the Warriors defensive aggression of recent years.
WORST PERFORMANCE: There are plenty to choose from ranging from the 4-50 embarrassment at the hands of the Wests Tigers in Wellington, to an inept 8-16 loss to North Qld in Townsville where the Warriors completed less than 50% of their sets.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: The Warriors look stronger on and off the field for 2005. Price, Wiki and Fien will bolster the playing ranks, while ex Warriors Ivan Cleary (assistant coach) & Kevin Campion (defence co-ordinator) will assist head coach Tony Kemp. This should result in a more dedicated effort by the team but confidence may still be low and it won?t be easy to build. The New Zealand public won?t tolerate another season of poor performances and will at least expect greater commitment.
If they apply themselves properly with the talent they possess, I expect the Warriors to challenge for 7th or 8th spot, but if their attitude doesn?t improve they could remain in the cellar.
Match Record ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium LOSS 20-28 2 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Ericsson Stadium LOSS 10-16 3 Penrith Panthers Ericsson Stadium LOSS 22-42 4 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval WIN 28-10 5 Newcastle Knights Ericsson Stadium LOSS 20-34 6 Bulldogs Westpac Trust Stadium LOSS 18-24 7 BYE 8 Melbourne Storm Ericsson Stadium WIN 20-14 9 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium LOSS 8-16 10 Manly Sea Eagles Ericsson Stadium LOSS 20-42 11 South Sydney Rabbitohs Aussie Stadium WIN 26-12 12 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 6-58 13 Canberra Raiders Ericsson Stadium WIN 20-14 14 Wests Tigers Westpac Trust Stadium LOSS 4-50 15 North Queensland Ericsson Stadium LOSS 26-28 16 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park LOSS 6-42 17 Parramatta Eels Ericsson Stadium WIN 20-10 18 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park LOSS 14-22 19 South Sydney Rabbitohs Ericsson Stadium WIN 34-20 20 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium LOSS 29-30 21 BYE
22 Brisbane Broncos Ericsson Stadium LOSS 14-21 23 St.George-Illawarra Dragons WIN Stadium LOSS 10-28 24 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium LOSS 18-48 25 Sydney Roosters Ericsson Stadium LOSS 24-30 26 Bulldogs Ericsson Stadium LOSS 10-54 6 WINS, 18 LOSSES. FOR: 427 AGAINST: 693 POSITION: 14TH
New Zealand Warriors - 2005 Player Movement Gains: Tony Kemp-Coach (mid season) , Steven Price (Bulldogs) for 3yrs, Ruben Wiki (Raiders) for 3yrs, Nathan Fien (Cowboys) 3yrs, Kevin Campion- Management (Cowboys), Ivan Cleary- Management (Roosters Management)
Losses: Daniel Anderson - Coach (released mid-season), Henry Faafili (Warrington- midseason) Jerry Seu Seu (Wigan), Matt Jobson (Tigers, 1yr), Danny Sullivan (retired mid season), Mark Tookey (Castleford mid season), Paul Dezolt (Easts Tigers mid season), Vince Mellars (Cronulla mid season), Ali Lauitiiti (Leeds mid season), Justin Murphy (Widnes, UK mid season), PJ Marsh (Eels, 2yrs), Marcus Perenara (Eels, 2yrs)
Re-signed: Brent Webb (3yrs), Sione Faumuina (3yrs), Lance Hohaia (2yrs), Francis Meli (2yrs), Richard Villasanti (2yrs) , Monty Betham, Karl Temata (2yrs), Wairangi Koopu (2yrs)
By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist