Saturday, April 13

When will the Warriors get some respect?

Why the Warriors are about to make a bunch of Aussie sports writers and tipsters look like muppets, and finally earn the club some respect.

Punching above our weight is just part of the New Zealand DNA, so one of the more gratifying aspects of being a Warriors supporter is that you’re forever supporting an underdog. 

The combination of being the only NZ team up against 16 other Aussie based clubs (and sometimes biased refs) along with a heavier travel schedule than any other club, provides the ongoing sense of their underdog status. The fact that the Warriors have never won the grand final in 29 years, only serves to emphasise this. But with underdog tag also comes a sense of scepticism and disbelief.

The Warriors head into their 30th season coming off the back of a spell-binding 2023 that saw them finish 4th on the ladder and reach the cusp of the big show, only being edged in a preliminary final. 

However, despite having an even stronger squad going into 2024, there aren’t many within Aussie league circles giving the Warriors any credit. 

In a recent survey conducted by Aussie media outlet, CODE Sports, 17 sports journos and media pundits, including the likes of Mick Ennis, Brent Read and Corey Parker, gave their assessment of which clubs will make the top 8 this season. 

Of those 17, only 7 had the Warriors included in their top 8 crystal ball predictions. And of those 7, just one solitary tipster had them included in their top 4. One pundit even had Roger Tuivasa-Sheck wining the Daly M Award, yet still didn’t have the Warriors making their top 8. 

How?

Given the season they’ve just had, and with an even stronger team this time around, why are so many pundits choosing to overlook the Warriors?  

There’s two reasons:

1. Along with being arrogant dickheads, Aussies are quite patriotic. Or overly careful to not lose any support from their readers.

2. The Warriors have been plagued by inconsistency from the club’s inception – not just year to year, but from game to game. Many in Australia see the Warriors of 2023 as only that – a one-off flash in the pan, which they are always capable of. But the idea of them producing the same achievement or better two years in a row…? Inconceivable. And, to be fair, they aren’t incorrect because inconsistency has historically dogged the Warriors.

So why should this year be any different?

There’s a variety of logical reasons that have contributed to the Warriors inconsistency – none of which appear to be present heading into 2024. There’s no pandemic impacting well-being, and no major changes in personnel, ownership or head coach. 

It’s worth noting that the most productive and consistent patch the Warriors have had was under Ivan Cleary, between 2006 – 2011. 

You would struggle to find anyone who would agree that letting Cleary go was a smart move. Since then, the Warriors have ripped through 5 coaches, plus three caretaker coaches, after 3 head coaches were sacked mid-season. But 2023 introduced Andrew Webster, an understudy of Ivan Cleary for two years at Penrith, with a 17 year coaching apprenticeship prior to that. And in 2023, he won the Daly M coach of the year. Only one head coach of the Warriors has been bestowed this honour in their previous 29 years – Daniel Anderson – who took them to the grand final in 2002, the same team Ivan Cleary played in.

So, was 2023 a fluke? There’s arguments to be made. The Warriors have only made the top 8 in back-to-back seasons a few times. But this is a totally different club and the Aussies themselves are overlooking the fact that any issues which may have previously contributed to the Warriors inconsistency, simply aren’t present going into 2024.

The Warriors are about to make a mockery of those idiotic, bias predictions, and along the way, earn some respect.

Had the Warriors been going into this season with issues around player rotation, long term injuries to core players, a new coach, new ownership, or perhaps player standards slipping due to complacency, then a case could be made that we could see the Warriors of old. Yet none of those issues exist and the pre-season trials proved complacency won’t be a factor. 

The Warriors go into the season without only 2 players of their match day 17 from the preliminary final but have replaced them with what must be considered much stronger players. 

Combinations and fluency on attack and defence will only be improved on last season. Competition for spots is healthy and thriving because there is a massive logjam in the centres, halves and second row. To such an extent, surely other NRL clubs desperate for talent and with cash to burn, are looking over the fence and rubbing their hands together. If Ali Leiataua isn’t being talked about in recruitment at the likes of the Roosters and St George, then I’ll eat my hat.

So, thanks to competition for spots, along with the arrogance of the Aussie tipsters, complacency won’t be an issue at all. If you don’t believe the players read and listen to what is being said out there, think again. They may steer clear of the comments sections (as they should), but just look at Breakers import, Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s reaction toward Aussie basketball commentator, Derek Rucker. Boy did he give him a verbal spray! This was based on a publication from Rucker ranking Jackson-Cartwright lowly among his peers. The players know who is saying what about them. If they don’t read it, family and friends will tell them about it. You can be sure the Warriors players will take note of the fact that, yet again, they are being overlooked by critics across the Tasman. 

On the surface, they will say this helps them fly under the radar without the pressure. But under the hood, they will privately simmer, and be looking to prove a point.

We can all sit back and grumble over so many tipsters writing the Warriors off, but you have to earn respect. I still recall in 2008, when the Warriors had beaten Melbourne in the first round of finals with a last-minute Michael Witt try – the first time ever that 8th had beaten 1st. Walking off Olympic Park, Nathan Fein gave a journo a spray on his way past – “Maybe now we’ll get some fucking respect”. Yet the following season, the Warriors finished 14th out of 16 teams.

At what point will the Warriors have done enough to have them as an automatic inclusion in most tipsters top 8? 

Well, I can tell you. Make the top 4 this and next year. Then and only then, will the Warriors have done enough to be included in most top 8 predictions. Why next year as well? Because they’ll have to do it without Addin Fonua-Blake. And if they do, they will have finally turned enough heads to warrant respect.

Of course, there is one other way that would see the Warriors earning respect in 2024… Win the whole damn thing. 

With the Warriors players rolling their sleeves up, they might just ‘knock the bastard off”. The Cowboys were a punchline until they won the comp with Jonathan Thurston leading the way. As soon as they lifted the trophy, they earned a tonne of respect. Same applies to the Warriors. 

I’m convinced, based on the evidence, that the Warriors are building something very special, something that is going to be very hard for those Aussie journos to ignore in the coming years.

Author