It also means that it’s time for me to give my thoughts on how I see the Warriors faring in their 2019 campaign.
As I did last year, I will be breaking down my preview into sections outlining my views on the preseason and trial results, key signings, the 2019 squad, my gameday 17, the team's strengths and weaknesses and then finalising it all with my 2019 prediction.
As always, these are all my thoughts and opinions, and I’m always interested in hearing your views too so if you want to share your thoughts, comment below and let me know what you think.
Preseason News: A year of change
2018 was a much-needed improvement, with the Warriors returning to finals football for the first time since 2011 but the way they bowed out of the finals against the Penrith Panthers was embarrassing, to say the least, that is now in the past, and a lot has changed since that night.
This preseason has been full of stories, from Shaun Johnson exit (more on that in a little bit), the battle of the young halves vying for his spot, accusations of tampering when trying to recruit Dylan Brown and Issac Lukes newly signed deal it’s fair to say that 2019’s preseason will be one to remember for some time.
2019 is a year of change with the one of the most noticeable differences at the club being the teams home jersey reverting back to the clubs original colours in celebration of the clubs 25th year.
Personally, I love the change and would like it to be a permanent change.
The Warriors welcomed Nathan Cayless and Todd Payten into the coaching team with Payten replacing Andrew McFadden and Cayless taking control of the Warriors ISP team.
Stephen Kearney also re-signed for another three years which I think is a wise move; the Warriors need consistency in the coaches box if they want consistency on the field.
In regards to the squad, the Warriors lost Johnson, James Gavet and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad all in preseason when they requested and were granted their releases, all are players that will be missed, but the Warriors have players willing and able to step up and replace them. The most intriguing story to come out of the player exodus being the battle between halves Adam Keighran and Chanel Harris-Tavita both have displayed potential so far in the preseason trials and have no doubt given Stephen Kearney plenty to think about for his round one team.
The first of the Warriors two trials saw the Warriors make the journey to Geelong to face the Melbourne Storm, both sides played without their key players, and there isn’t much to say about this match with the Warriors staying in control for the majority of the game-winning 12-6.
My standouts in this trial were Lachlan Burr who brought a lot of energy in his spells and looks to be a worthy inclusion to the Warriors bench, Patrick Herbert also had a strong showing and has thrown his hat in the ring for the battle for the two starting centre spots.
The second trial saw a Warriors team with all its stars bar Issac Luke travel up to Whangarei to defeat the Wests Tigers 26-16 in what was an excellent final blowout before round one.
Peta Hiku’s shift to the left edge made an immediate impact with Ken Maumalo scoring a double, Solomona Kata’s switch to the right edge didn’t stop Fusitua scoring a double too.
The game wasn’t perfect with some silly penalties and the forwards not being as dominant as I had expected, but these are issues that should be resolved before round one.
During the last trial it was announced by Cameron George that Issac Luke had re-signed with the club for 2020, I think it’s a good move for the club, and it also gives Nathaniel Roache more time to learn his trade from Luke.
Lastly my take on Shaun’s exit.
I have kept mostly quiet on the exit of Johnson, but I believe the Warriors have done the right thing in moving on from Shaun.
In my mind that playoff game against the Panthers was the final nail in his coffin, his vanishing act in that match showed that he wasn’t deserving of his large paycheck in my opinion.
When he was told that he was welcome to test the market, instead of proving his worth like Issac Luke said he took his ball and went home.
Half-hearted players don't win championships and winning the NRL is what every team should be aiming to do.
The way the departure happened wasn’t pretty, and at times it seemed more like a toxic relationship breakup with the Warriors and Shaun both looking like petty exes at times in the media but he is gone now and although the media will continue to go on and on about the situation I have moved on.
The media in Australia have written the Warriors off due to them having an inexperienced half starting, but they did the same when James Maloney moved here and look how that turned out.
Key Signing: Leeson Ah Mau
After nine years across the ditch, Leeson Ah Mau has returned to where it all began.
Leeson was a significant component of the Dragons forward pack, and after a strong 2018 which saw him earn a Kiwis jersey he has proved to be a formidable prop, and he will be an integral component to the Warriors success in 2019.
One of the Warriors most significant issues in 2018 was the lack of go forward by the pack and Leeson will have to lead the way for the young props in the Warriors rotation.
Defensively he is reliable also and will help solidify that defensive line in that middle channel.
The Warriors recruitment for 2019 has left a lot to be desired with Leeson the only notable signing.
Fringe player Lachlan Burr has moved across the ditch in a bid to get more first grade minutes and add’s legitimate size to the Warriors pack.
Disgraced centre Taane Milne has received a lifeline from the Warriors; he was released by the Wests Tigers after a second positive drug test and will be looking for redemption.
Adam Keighran can play regular first grade with Johnson’s exit, and I believe his renowned goal kicking prowess, and strong defence will help to push his nose in front as the favourite to start alongside Blake Green in round one.
The Warriors have yet to use the majority of the money left in the salary cap after the exit of Johnson, Gavet and Nicoll-Klokstad and this gives them an edge in obtaining any players that may need to be moved on due to cap pressures at other clubs, and you can expect some movement before June.
With the exit of Johnson and Mannering, the Warriors will be leaning on Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, even more, to guide them to success this season.
Roger will be looking to build on his impressive 2018 form that saw him become the first Warrior to become a Dally M Medalist, he’s part of one of the best back three combinations in the NRL, partnered with Ken Maumalo and the NRL’s leading try scorer David Fusitua.
The Warriors will no doubt continue to direct their attack down the right edge, but with Solomona Kata moving to the right that question will be if this move will neuter Fusitu’as scoring ability,
The Warriors explosive backline will be of little use if the forward pack does not do their part, with the inclusion of Ah Mau and Burr, the pack has increased in size considerably; their addition to the prop rotation will guarantee the halves will have ample time to create scoring opportunities.
Blake Green has a lot of pressure on him this season, partnered with a rookie halfback; he will be expected to take full control of the team and organising the attack.
It appears that the Warriors are confident that he can shoulder that responsibility for this season’s campaign, but I expect to see Tuivasa-Sheck increase his playmaking role in 2019.
Isaiah Papalii has big boots to fill, taking over from club legend Mannering.
After a breakout 2018, Papali’i appears to have the potential to take control of the lock position long term.
I think the squad has a good mix of youth and experience and plenty of talent across the park, but it’s imperative that the Warriors convert a good team on paper into a great team on the field.
My Gameday 17
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 14. Jazz Tevaga
2. David Fusitua 15. Bunty Afoa
3. Peta Hiku 16. Lachlan Burr
4. Gerard Beale 17. Leivaha Pulu
5. Ken Maumalo
6. Blake Green
7. Adam Keighran
8. Leeson Ah Mau
9. Issac Luke
10. Agnatius Paasi
11. Adam Blair
12. Tohu Harris
13. Isaiah Papalii
Strengths and Weaknesses
The back three or the entire backline for that matter continues to be the most apparent strength for this side if Fusitua can maintain his 2018 form and Ken can keep improving they will be causing plenty of headaches for their opposition all year long.
The Warriors goal line defence still appears to be as robust as it was in 2018 and with their draw being tougher in 2019 their defence will need to be even better, that goal line needs to be an impenetrable wall.
In terms of the team's weaknesses although the depth in the squad is adequate the depth in the spine is where most Warriors fans will have their concerns, any injuries to Green or Tuivasa-Sheck during the season could derail the whole campaign.
Even though the goalline defence is good, the Warriors need to improve their defence in the middle of the park, too many times in 2018 the Warriors opponents easily marched up the field, if the Warriors can bring that goal line intensity to their defence everywhere else, their chances of coming away with the victory increases tenfold.
Lastly is the tough draw, in particular, the final month.
If the 2019 season is as close as 2018 was, that final month of the season could be the deciding factor for the New Zealand club with three out of the final four matches being in Australia.
Including starting that last month against the title favourite Roosters in Sydney in round 22, the Warriors away record was impressive in 2018, and it will need to stay that way this season.
My 2019 Prediction
My prediction last year was close with me being only one position off with my prediction of seventh.
In what has become a common occurrence most of the NRL pundits in Australia have written the Warriors off with most even predicting the Warriors to get their first ever wooden spoon this season.
I don’t agree with them and providing the Warriors stay injury-free, this is a top-eight side, and I see them sitting seventh at the end of round 25.
So let's bring on the new season, I cannot wait for round one and to get back to Mount Smart.
I will once again be writing game reviews every week throughout the seasons and I’m looking forward to talking to all of you as the year progresses, if you are at any of the home games you can always find me in the members tent before and after the games so come and say hi and talk some football.
If you like what I’m doing here, please share my blog around with your friends and leave comments telling me how you think the seasons going to go.
I've also been fortunate to become the Warriors correspondent for NothingbutLeague.com this season so please show them some love by checking out my articles on their site each week.
As I did last season, I will end my preview with some questions so let me know your answers, and I will talk to you all again after round one.
What would you do with the money left in the cap?
Where do you think the Warriors will finish in 2019?
What changes would you make to my gameday 17?
Who is your key signing?