Coaches and players being sacked, contract clauses, RPLA striking and covering up logos, players involved in off-field indiscretions, Phil Gould sticking his nose everywhere he can… Just another season in the NRL.
Oh, and some good news to inspire our kids; if you ever find that you’ve snorted some coke and already skipped a third of the season, don’t worry. Because if you try hard, you can still pick up the Daly M award.
Yet with all the off-field drama going on in the NRL, it’s comforting to sit back and watch it all play out from across the ditch without too many worries. Not only has Daly M winning coach, Andrew Webster, instilled confidence in the players, but his presence provides confidence to the fans. Especially when he claims he wants to stay in NZ and build a dynasty at the Warriors.
What a season. Shaun Johnson, Adam Pompey, and Addin Fonua Blake played the first 26 rounds of the season. The game against Cronulla was one of the greatest and thrilling comebacks of all time. The smile on Shaun Johnson’s face after his intercept pass in the dying minutes against the Raiders will shine on highlight reels for years to come. AFB added a step to his arsenal and scored 9 tries. Dallin scored the most tries in a season of any Warriors player ever and is about to release his own hair products. Up the Wahs took the nation by storm. And most Warriors players reached career-defining form, with 8 Daly M nominations and 4 wins. What a ride. I would go so far as to say that even though the Warriors didn’t make the GF, no one would argue if you claimed this was possibly their greatest and most defining season of all time. Thank you, Warriors.
While the Warriors have indicated their desire to build and improve upon this year, next season is set to be one of the toughest the NRL has ever produced. Experienced coaches in Flanagan and Hasler return to helm what have been considered perennial strugglers in St George and the Titans, respectively. Many clubs including the Bulldogs have stocked their ranks with reinforcements or added touches in quality players, like Luke Brooks to Manly, and Jack Wighton to Souths – and if Latrell Mitchell remains fit for most of the season, they will be a title contender. Pretty much everyone aside from the Tigers will be a threat – but even they beat teams this season, including Penrith. So it just goes to show there are no easy beats in the NRL. Next year will be no different. If anything, it will be a grueling season for every club.
The Warriors will likely have to play Penrith, Souths, Storm, and Broncos twice, given they only played them once in 2023. Next season it is hard to see how any coaches will be sacked, for the first time in decades, unless a massive run of losses hits a club. This is because a lot of clubs have installed a new coach, have re-negotiated terms with existing coaches, or experienced enough success to warrant a poor year.
It’s a good sign to hear the Warriors want to build on this season. You could argue that they will feel pressure to continue the momentum, because if they can’t make the top 8 next year, then everyone will roll their eyes and assume the ‘old Warriors’ are back and 2023 was just an anomaly. With all this in mind, the Warriors will also benefit from a second pre-season under Webster, but also have a fairly settled yet aging squad. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Chanel Harris-Tevita joining them, the average age at the Warriors in 2024 will be 27 or 28. RTS provides the strike weapon they need, assuming he’s able to transition into the role of centre, effectively.
The Warriors go into next season with five specialist centres and three other players that can cover that position. They’ll also be in the rare position of boasting 5 specialist halves. To be fair, halves and centre are positions the Warriors have often lacked depth and both are crucial positions in both attack and defense. It’s fantastic they have managed to acquire this.
I was somewhat perplexed when I heard the Warriors had resigned Harris-Tevita. Mainly because they already had plenty of ammunition in Metcalfe, Te Marie Martin and Volkman, and Johnson was still reconsidering resigning. However, it’s probably a masterstroke.
Let me explain.
Over the next two years, Shaun Johnson, Cherry-Evan’s, Mitchell Moses, Matt Moylan, Ben Hunt, Cody Walker, Jack Wighton (note Ben Ilias will be 31), Adam Reynolds, Kieran Foran, Dylan Walker, Chad Townsend and Luke Keary will have all retired. That’s a huge vacuum to fill. But when you cast your eye over their likely replacements, the NRL is a little thin on the ground for experienced talent. So having Johnson stick around for one more season to steer the ship and provide leadership and mentoring to the other Warriors halves, will be invaluable, along with ensuring plenty of injury cover and opportunities to build experience within a strong environment. The cream will rise to the top and one suspects barring significant injury, that Volkman will be the first to look for a new home because it’s hard to see Te Marie and Metcafe being surpassed and Harris Tevita could potentially shift into more of a Dylan Walker mould.
The club is stocked in the second row and has good coverage on the wing. Wade Egan and Lussick hold the fort at hooker, with Roache emerging as a quality backup option, while Charnze and Tuapiki cover fullback with options in DWZ, Te Marie and RTS if required. It seems the only position the Warriors continue to lack genuine depth, is at prop. And while the Warriors have some talent emerging, they are still a few years away from becoming seasoned NRL props.
Yet, even if the Warriors stumbled across an experienced prop happy to cross the ditch next season, when you look at the likely cap space available, they probably just couldn’t afford anyone worth more than $200k, so they may as well invest in homegrown talent. However you assess the Warrior’s strengths and weaknesses, prop continues to be the one area they are vulnerable. Should any long-term injury occur to Addin Fonua-Blake in 2024, the Warriors could find themselves struggling against bigger packs like the Broncos and Melbourne.
CODE NRL has been researching and reporting salaries of players in the spine, back five, and starting forward pack. Taking these assumptions into account, these values for the Warriors players (see below) add up to around $7.19M. The remaining players are guesstimates that ultimately prove there won’t be half a million bucks reserved for any opportunities that might present themselves and the Warriors would likely have to move players on in order to accommodate any big-name signings. It should be assumed the confirmed numbers by CODE NRL will still have a variety of performance clauses along with either front or tail-loaded payments. It was reported for instance that Nuikore’s contract would be front-loaded. So there’s no real way to know exact values without Cameron George cracking open the books for us. There are also techniques the club can use, such as bonuses. If those bonuses aren’t met, it frees up money for the following season. Any money not spent can be pulled forward into the following season. Invariably there could be a few hundred thousand freed up.
There are also two spots still available in the Top 30 and one would anticipate promoting from within with the likes of Kalani Going and Zyon Maiu’u being given opportunities because it’s hard to see them being able to afford anyone else.
Top 30 players
Total cap space available for all teams: $11.45M
WARRIORS PRELIM STARTING XIII SALARIES
Source CODE NRL
* alongside figures reflects no source and best guess
1. Charnze ($500,000)
2. Dallin Watene ($800,000)
3. Rocco Berry ($250,000)
4. Adam Pompey ($250,000)
5. Marcelo ($250,000)
6. Te Maire Martin ($250,000)
7. Shaun Johnson ($600,000)
8. Addin Fonua ($1,050,000)
9. Wayde Egan ($500,000)
10. Mitch Barnett ($400,000)
11. Jackson Ford ($300,000)
12. Marata Niukore ($840,000)
13. Tohu Harris ($950,000)
TOTAL: $6,940,000 ($400k from Bulldogs for DWZ)
Dylan Walker $700k
Luke Metcalfe $250k
Bunty Afoa $400k
Freddy Lussick $200k*
Josh Curren $300k*
Jazz Tevega $400k*
Ed Kosi $250k*
Chanel Harris Tevita $300k*
Ali Leiatua $150k*
Tom Ale $150k*
Taine Tuipaki $150k*
Brayden Williame $200k*
Total cap used $11,045,000
Salary cap 11.45M
Available funds $0