SEASON REVIEW | NZ Warriors
Ladder position: 5th
Competition points: 30
Points scored (including finals): 537
Points conceded (including finals): 498
A poor finish to the season ruined the Warriors’ chances of a maiden premiership, with a run of just one win from their final seven games culminating in a Semi Final loss to Newtown. Twelve errors and a whopping 54 missed tackles proved to be the end of the New Zealand side’s campaign in that game, with the final 22-18 scoreline flattering the visitors.
The home ground advantage, as expected, was once again clear for all to see in 2016; the Warriors managed eight wins from their 11 games across the ditch. The most important was an historic Quarter Final – the first at Mt Smart Stadium – over the Penrith Panthers, who they overcame after going down to them at the same venue a week prior.
With the usual abundance of talent that is enjoyed by the Warriors, they were a side brimming with potential all season. The return of former Kiwi International Ali Lauitiiti – who had played 115 first grade games for the Warriors before playing 275 more in England – was a boost of much-needed experience at the start of the year and helped develop the young pack, before injury resulted in his retirement after Round 20.
The Warriors enjoyed a number of large victories throughout the year, including a 38-point thrashing of the Wests Tigers in just the second week of competition, but their best victory came via a 42-12 demolition of the Bulldogs in Round 9.
Disciplinary action forced a five-man NRL brigade into the lower tier, with the likes of Ben Matulino, Manu Vatuvei, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete and Bodene Thompson all lining up in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW match at Mt Smart Stadium. What ensued was a performance which, quite simply, proved the difference between the two grades: the eight-tries-to-two rout included doubles to Vatuvei, Henare Wells and Tomas Aoake.
When the supercharged side – arguably the strongest fielded by any team all season – ran out to a 26-0 half-time lead, it made coach Stacey Jones’ job easy and the Warriors legend hadn’t used a single interchange in the opening half. The third consecutive win for the Auckland-based side brought them to third on the ladder and, despite losing those players the following week, would send warning signals to the rest of the competition.
The Warriors’ poorest showing came in Round 15 against the Jets – the team that ultimately sent them packing in 2016. Possession of 47% and 36 missed tackles wasn’t to the Warriors’ own standards, but shouldn’t have resulted in the 38-6 thrashing at Henson Park.
Newtown raced out to a quick lead with tries to Anthony Moraitis, Travis Robinson and Matt Evans in the first 15 minutes, before getting to 38 points after 50 minutes of play. In total, the Warriors ran for 425 fewer metres than their opponents and while second half errors didn’t allow the Jets to increase their lead further, the visitors were never really in the contest.
A relatively solid performance that failed to bring competition points can be described as the turning point for the Warriors in 2016 – it came in the shape of a 32-22 loss to Mounties in Round 20.
With 85% possession, 1,513 metres and five linebreaks, the Warriors laid all the groundwork to defeat the ladder leaders, who looked vulnerable with their 30 missed tackles. Two Mounties tries in the opening five minutes looked like it would be a sorry day for the visitors to the nation’s capital and while they reduced the deficit to just two points by half-time, that early period of play would ultimately prove to be the difference between the two sides. A hat-trick to fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was a definite highlight but with the loss kicking off a five-match losing streak, those two early tries proved to be vital in the course of their season.
As expected from a side that was a favourite for the title at times, there were a number of standouts this season. Nicoll-Klokstad was exceptional across a range of positions in his return from the Melbourne Storm and with his 13 tries he has firmed as an NRL chance for next year. Henare Wells was also a valuable asset in the Warriors’ back line, combining well with Nicoll-Klokstad. Mason Lino and Ata Hingano were at times a dynamic halves combination and while Hingano earned two NRL appearances late in the year, either could be considered as backup for Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson in the new season.
Finally, James Gavet demonstrated that he is certainly a first grader and was unlucky to only play 10 NRL games in 2016.
Destined for the NRL:
Lino and Hingano will both hope to be considered for a bench spot when new head coach Stephen Kearney arrives as the head coach next year, as will Jazz Tevaga – the stocky hooker earned 11 NRL appearances thanks to an injury to Issac Luke and showed that he could add to that in 2017. It seems certain that Nicoll-Klokstad could perform at NRL level and while it will be difficult to crack the Warriors’ promising back line, the 21-year-old certainly deserves a starting spot somewhere. Limited player movements at NRL level mean the existing crop of talent will need to continue to develop to earn their place in first grade.
Consistency is always the name of the game for the Warriors and after six wins from their first nine games it didn’t seem to be a worry this season – they fell away at the end of the season, of course, and struggled to keep their composure. A relatively stable roster should enable them to be a genuine force in 2017 and top four should certainly be the goal.