The Warriors have relocated to help save the NRL season.
The Warriors have relocated to help save the NRL season.

Matty Johns: Rugby league owes the Warriors

There have been questions asked about whether the premiership-winning team will have an asterisk next to their name given the circumstances of season 2020.

That's crazy.

When the competition recommences on May 28 it will be as tough and hard fought as any other.

It's an insult to the sacrifices players such as the Warriors are making to even suggest the 2020 title carries less prestige or importance.

I've got so much admiration for the New Zealand Warriors club, its players and the players' families.

The whole game owes them an enormous debt of gratitude.

 

The Warriors start their nomad life in Tamworth. Photo: AAP Image/David Gray
The Warriors start their nomad life in Tamworth. Photo: AAP Image/David Gray

 

If you were writing a script on season 2020, the big Hollywood ending would be the Warriors wining the competition in the final seconds.

I don't think anyone would begrudge them that.

If that were to happen it's fair to say there's going to have to be a pretty serious turnaround; their first two performances before the season was suspended hinted at another long year.

The sacrifices and adversity they face could very well be the making of this playing squad as they bunker down together in the country music capital.

I hope so - I'd love for the Warriors club to fulfil its enormous potential.

When the Auckland Warriors entered the competition in 1995 the hype was enormous and so were the hopes.

There was a feeling that this organisation, which had the entire country and junior nursery of New Zealand to itself, would be another super club to rival the then benchmark Brisbane Broncos.

LISTEN! Cooper is back at training so it's Matty Trish and Jack with the latest on life inside the Johns household, the best John Singleton stories and where they'd go in a time machine.

 

 

They started the '95 season strongly - the opening night against the Broncos, which they lost narrowly, was huge and the atmosphere electric - but as the season wore on they faded.

Looking back now, you can see that roster lacked balance. It was as though they decided to assemble an all-star cast without really working out how they would play and what type of player they would need.

They signed some big names with a bias toward all-out attack.

Greg Alexander, Phil Blake, Gene Ngamu, Sean Hoppe, Manoa Thompson, Stephen Kearney and Gavin Hill were some of the players who arrived from NRL clubs, while Dennis Betts, Andy Platt, Dean Bell and Richie Blackmore were signed from the English game. They even landed All Black legend John Kirwan, which created a huge buzz.

It reads like a fantasy football team, but rugby league is played on grass, not paper.

 

John Kirwan for the Warriors back in 1995.
John Kirwan for the Warriors back in 1995.

 

I think that's been a consistent problem for the Warriors, certainly in the early years.

If you look at their most successful seasons you can see how they got the balance spot on.

In 2002 they made the grand final and in that squad were brilliant attacking players like Stacey Jones and Ali Lautiti, experienced NRL professionals like Kevin Campion and Ivan Cleary, as well as a bit of intimidation in men like Monty Betham, Jerry Seu Seu and Richard Villasanti.

On top of that there were some really classy emerging players: Brent Webb, Lance Hohaia, Shontayne Hape and Clinton Toopi.

The mix was right.

 

Stacey Jones led them to the brink in the 2002 NRL Grand Final.
Stacey Jones led them to the brink in the 2002 NRL Grand Final.

 

So too in 2011, when they yet again reached the final day.

The attacking threat of Shaun Johnson, Feliti Mateo, Krisnan Inu, and Manu Vatevei, the know-how and experience of James Maloney and Shaun Berrigan. The work-a-holics, Simon Mannering, Michael Luck and Jeremy Latimore, the size and muscle of Russell Packer and Ben Matulino. And again sprinkled with some talented youngsters.

Every player having a role and serving a purpose.

But the biggest tragedy in the Warriors' history is how their junior nursery has been looted by other NRL clubs and ruthless managers.

 

This unprecedented season could unite the Warriors. Photo: AAP Image/David Gray
This unprecedented season could unite the Warriors. Photo: AAP Image/David Gray

 

There have been periods of instability for the Warriors that left them vulnerable. There was the collapse of the Auckland Warriors in 1999 and various changes of ownership and administration. But also the fact that in the Warriors' first 20 years, they've gone through 10 head coaches, made even more dramatic with the fact that Ivan Cleary held the position for five years. So if you remove the Cleary years, it's nine coaches in 15 seasons.

All this instability has been a big contributor in their talent being pinched.

And not just their talent - the Pacific nations have rapidly become the game's biggest talent pool and the Warriors should own the region and have the pick of the talent.

In fact, I think they still can. If the New Zealand Warriors are to become the club we hope they can be, they must become the team of the Pacific nations and stop the Aussies stealing all their talent.

In the meantime thanks again Warriors, I and plenty of others will be cheering for you.

Originally published as Matty Johns: Rugby league owes the Warriors


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