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Who would have predicted in 2011 that the Vodafone Warriors Club would have all their three teams featuring in every Grand Final? A huge boost for the Club setting up the New Zealand based franchise well for season 2012.
With the departure of Ivan Cleary, the Warriors most successful 1st Grade coach, all eyes with be on the experienced New Zealander Brian (Bluey) McClennan to take the side one step further than has been achieved before in the NRL since their inclusion into the competition in 1995.
The only major signing for 2012 being Nathan Friend, covering for the departed Lance Hohaia and Aaron Heremaia, shows the confidence the Club has in the players staying from the 2011 season, and the younger players coming through from back to back Premierships in the NYC competition.
Resigning of players such as Simon Mannering, Shaun Johnson, Kevin Locke, Sam Rapira, Jacob Lillyman and so forth, can only instill stability at the Warriors. Lillyman's bicep injury in the 1st trial match against the Titans will see him sidelined for 3 months.
Sam Raipira's shoulder injury in the 2nd trial match against the Rabbitohs, will have him on the sidelines for 6 weeks. In the same match, brother Steve limped off with an ankle injury. However we see the likes of Ukuma Ta'ai and Sione Lousi vying for the vacant position, both with NRL game time, and both more than capable of stepping up to cover for Lillyman and the Rapira brothers. The same for Michael Luck who will also be sidelined for 3 months now, longer than originally anticipated.
Good news for the Club with Jerome Ropati playing through their third trial match ok. Ropati playing his first game in nearly a year, ran freely. The dynamic form of rookie Konrad Hurrell in all 3 trials may just see him get the nod for the first game at centre ahead of Ropati.
James Maloney has already stated he is moving back to Australia to live in 2013. The Warriors were pretty quick to counter that with Kiwi player and Wigan halfback, Thomas Leuluai, set to head back to New Zealand in 2013.
The Warriors head into their first round match against the Sea Eagles with three major injuries: Michael Luck (Shoulder/Hand), Sam Rapira (Shoulder), and Jacob Lillyman (Bicep), but you do get the feeling that this will not penalize them in the slightest as they try to turn the result around in the rematch of last year's Grand Final.
Why They Can Win It
The depth of talent in every position on offer this year for the coaching staff must have them rubbing their hands together. If a run of injuries does occur, the next player in line will be more than capable. Also the confidence, and the harmony in Warriors Club in 2012 will see them well paced at the end of the season.
Why They May Struggle
Consistency could be an issue this year. Coach Bluey McClennan has firmly stated players will be picked on form and attitude, not on reputation. This could have an effect on combinations on the field. Hopefully the opposite will happen.
Player to Watch
Shaun Johnson - without a doubt, a lot of interest will be focused on the dynamic Warriors Number 7 Shaun Johnson. A glimpse of what is on offer was shown in 2011, and with a bit more NRL game time and confidence under his belt, Johnson is bound to improve.
Rookies to Watch
Ben Henry and Konrad Hurrell - both these players have been standouts for the victorious Warriors Toyota Cup sides.
Henry, captaining the side for the last 2 seasons, is a workhorse not afraid to lead from the front, both on attack and defence. With Michael Luck's shoulder injury worse than first anticipated, he may get more game time than expected early on in the season.
Hurrell was a stand out player for the winning 2011 Toyota Cup side after being lured over from playing rugby union. A very strong centre, he gives it all out on the field, and will step up to the pace of the NRL easily, causing havoc for the opposition on the way.
2012 Roster Changes
Comings: Nathan Friend (Titans)
Goings: Lance Hohaia (St Helens), Brett Seymour (Hull FC), Jeremy Latimore (Dragons), Aaron Heremaia (Hull FC), Joel Moon (Salford), Adam Henry (Roosters), Shaun Berrigan (Raiders), Isaac John (Wakefield), James Gavet (Bulldogs), Anthony Gelling (Wigan), Sosaia Feki (Sharks)
Best Line Up
1 - Kevin Locke, 2 - Glen Fisiiahi, 3 - Krisnan Inu, 4 - Jerome Ropati/ Konrad Hurrell, 5 - Manu Vatuvei, 6 - James Maloney, 7 - Shaun Johnson, 8 - Sam Rapira, 9 - Nathan Friend, 10 - Russell Packer, 11 - Simon Mannering (c), 12 - Feleti Mateo, 13 - Michael Luck
Interchange: 14 - Lewis Brown, 15 - Ben Matulino, 16 - Steve Rapira, 17 - Elijah Taylor