Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
At least one player had cause to smile as the New Zealand Warriors kept their eyes down while passing through Sydney airport on Tuesday, the day after their NRL mauling by Manly.
While the squad absorbed the after-effects of a galling 52-6 loss to last year's beaten grand finalists, Ryan Shortland at least had reason for celebration.
Listed as 18th man for the trip to Brookvale Oval, the 21-year-old was told in the departure lounge he was to make his debut for the Warriors against Newcastle on Sunday.
"Ivan (coach Cleary) told me I was going to be starting at left centre and to look forward to the game.
"It was a bit of good news for me."
He replaces seasoned utility Wairangi Koopu, who drops to the bench, for a match at Mt Smart Stadium the Warriors must win - or at least show significant improvement on Monday night's shoddy effort.
Shortland is one beneficiary of the fallout while Sonny Fai is promoted to the starting lineup in the second row for Logan Swann.
The fourth-round clash against the third-placed Knights may not be the ideal scenario to make just his second first grade appearance but Shortland was typically buoyant.
With Jerome Ropati out of action until at least round six Shortland, who joined the Warriors this season after two years at the Melbourne Storm, could stake a reasonable claim to hold the centre berth alongside Brent Tate.
Based across the Tasman since he was two, Shortland originally grew up in Sydney before linking with Melbourne and playing for the NRL premier's feeder clubs in Brisbane.
He made his first grade debut in round two last season against Canberra but a fortnight later suffered the first of two posterior cruciate ligament tears.
Those needed 16 weeks of recovery and while he recuperated Israel Folau superseded Shortland in the Storm backline with a season that ultimately saw him chosen as the Dally M rookie of the year.
Realising his prospects were probably limited in Melbourne, Shortland eyed the Warriors as a vehicle for progressing his career.
"I was watching the Warriors play last year and my uncle (also his manager) asked if there was anyone else I'd play for. I said the Warriors and the opportunity came up."
Though raw, Shortland was confident of not being overawed.
"The thing I learnt (at Melbourne) is not to get too worked up, you just concentrate on your job."
The presence of Kangaroos representative Tate also eased the nerves.
"It's a good thing to have someone with so much international experience," Shortland said.
"There's other boys around. Simon Mannering, even though he's in the back row, he's offered a bit in the centres."
After sitting through a video of the third heaviest loss in Warriors' history, the players hit the training paddock on Thursday as they plot their recovery against a Knights' side travelling well.
"Ivan's told us to put it (Manly) behind us and learn from it," Shortland said.
"You couldn't say one or two people played badly, the whole club was involved in some way."
Meanwhile, Shortland allayed any fears his time in Premier League meant he might be flummoxed by the calls and combinations.
"Everyone gets a run with the top team until the last two sessions of the week," he said.
"I've had a few months pre-season and the last couple of weeks have been pretty good. I'm familiar with the plays."