Warriors - 2013 Preview
The Warriors may be seen as an inconsistent side but there's one thing they do very consistently - they tank when pre-season expectations are high. Their 14th place finishes in 2004, 2009 and 2012 are testament to that. The other thing they do is always bounce back the following year, so we can safely say they won't finish in the bottom two, but there's still no way of knowing just how high the bounce will take them.
New coach Matthew Elliott has a lot of work ahead of him - not least of all convincing everyone that he wasn't a second-choice pick for the job. Since coming on board the Warriors have been making all the right noises about hard pre-season training programs and they've picked up a few important depth signings but the real litmus test is obviously still to come. An awful lot depends on where the players minds are - if the lunatics are still running the asylum (as was the case last year) then it's pretty likely to be another dismal season.
In reality, trying to predict how the Warriors will go each year is harder than trying to choose the next Pope. Perhaps it'd be easiest if we all watched for signs of white smoke over Mt Smart Stadium.
Why they can win it
Because they nearly won it two short years ago with a pretty similar roster. Unlike last year they now have a great deal of NRL experience in their coaching staff and much better depth with key signings in weaker positions. The youngsters who have been raised through a diet of successful Under 20s campaigns are a year older and will have a much clearer idea of what it truly takes to succeed at this level.
Overall it's a solid pack of forwards making space for a largely untested spine combination that hopes to unlock a pretty youthful backline - and that doesn't sound too different from one or two other high-flying clubs in recent years.
Why they can't win it
Almost everything would have to go right to get the Warriors to the big dance. Unfortunately there are too many potential things that could go wrong.
At this stage Elliott is more questions than answers. Apart from John Monie, the Warriors have never appointed a coach with previous first-grade coaching experience in Australia. It's reasonable to expect Elliott will bring strong NRL structures to the team, but whether that's the best way to unlock the true potential of the Warriors enigma remains to be seen.
While the Warriors could well launch one of their giant-killing runs at some stage through the season, there's no escaping the thought that a lack of leadership, true attacking depth and defensive grunt means this team is at least another year or two away from being serious challengers.
Players to watch
Ben Matulino and Feleti Mateo had strong seasons in 2012 but both must continue to improve even further. Matulino's aim should be to develop into the true forward leader that the Warriors sorely need. Mateo has clear goals of achieving higher rep honours but this won't happen if he's only concerned about making himself look good - he needs a winning team to back his cause. Watch for both of them to achieve their goals this year.
Manu Vatuvei is on slightly rockier ground. Yes he's popular with the fans, he has a great smile and he tries his heart out - but his propensity for shaky hands and bad defensive reads is leaving him with very few chances to maintain his first-choice winger position. A switch into the forwards may be on the cards.
Rookies to watch
Both Sebastine Ikahihifo and Carlos Tuimavave were late graduates into first grade last year and still managed to stand out despite playing in a losing side. Ikahihifo in particular looks to have a very promising future as a rip-and-tear forward, while Tuimavave may need to play his way into the side as a utility while trying to figure out where he fits best.
Siliva Havili might be another U20s grad to get a shot this year. Neither Alehana Mara or Pita Godinet appear to have wrapped up the back-up dummy half role despite a few years of trying, so Havili could end up slipping under their guards to nab the spot himself.
2013 player movements
Gains: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Todd Lowrie (Storm), Dane Nielsen (Storm), Dominique Peyroux (Titans), Harry Siejka (Panthers)
Losses: James Maloney (Roosters), Lewis Brown (Panthers), Ukuma Ta'ai (Huddersfield), Micheal Luck (retired), Omar Slaimankhel (Japanese Rugby), Krisnan Inu (Bulldogs)
2013 trial form
9th Feb - Warriors 16 Titans 34 (Gold Coast)
16th Feb - Warriors 18 Panthers 32 (Hamilton)
23th Feb - Warriors 16 Broncos 10 (Dunedin)
Best line up
Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino, Nathan Friend, Sam Rapira, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie
Bench: Pita Godinet, Russell Packer, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor