Long has been the Winter of our Discontent – Once Were Warriors – Part 4

NRL clubs who have never won a premiership

This is part 4 of a 4 part series breaking down the four clubs which have never won a National Rugby League premiership in descending order of futility. This week, the mighty New Zealand Warriors. If you could sum up the Warriors in one word, it would be ‘inconsistent’. If you had two words, they would be ‘untapped potential’ or ‘sleeping giant’. Many thought that when the Warriors entered into the competition it would only be a matter of time before they emulated the Broncos. The parallels were unmistakable, a large region of players to choose from and the resources and support Sydney clubs can only dream about. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities ended. The Warriors are still waiting for their first premiership and the Broncos are sitting on 6. Firstly, a quick look at NZ Rugby League history before we focus on the Warriors.

History of New Zealand Rugby League

Rugby League began in New Zealand around the start of the 20th century and ironically a professional team from New Zealand, the ‘All Golds’ toured England and Australia in 1907 prior to the game ever having been played in New Zealand itself. The tour was an outstanding success with series wins against Wales (1-0), England (2-1) and Australia (2-1). Their overall record was 28 wins, 3 draws and 17 losses which is pretty good considering the English game had been established 12 years earlier and all of the Kiwis had to learn the rules on the way over. It was a long boat trip in those days.

The first game actually played on New Zealand soil was a benefit match for the widow of the organiser of that All Golds tour, Albert Baskerville who unfortunately died of illness during the tour. There was significant opposition from the NZRU for the fledgling sport (not a lot has changed), however, New Zealand Rugby League was formed in 1910 and professional Rugby League commenced in the Shaky Isles. The game was never to gain the foothold that Rugby Union has in New Zealand and is largely centred in Auckland and parts of the North Island with a competition also based in the South Island in the Canterbury region.

The national side, the New Zealand Kiwis have historically interspersed seasons of great success with long droughts. Highlights include an undefeated period between 1948 – 1951 and the 1961 – 1963 era where they won 7 from 10 Test matches with a 2-0 Test series win against Great Britain (considered the best team in the World at that time), a particular highlight. From the late 70s until the new millennium Australia dominated the sport internationally almost into oblivion. The Kiwis were often brave in defeat with the odd victory, however, this was always followed by a comprehensive series of defeats. The one off test win in 1987 (13-6) was one exception (there were others, but not many) in an otherwise bleak period for New Zealand Rugby League.

The 1980s and 1990s (though internationally bleak) were to see a significant increase in New Zealand footballing talent plying their trade in both the Australian and English competitions. Slowly the competitiveness of the Kiwis increased until the 2005 Tri-Nations final where Brian McClennan’s team outclassed the Kangaroos 24-0. It was to be the start of a more competitive period for the Kiwis and International Rugby League in general which culminated in victory in the 2008 World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations. Games have remained competitive since then, however, Australia has re-established its dominance in recent years.

History of the Warriors

The Auckland Warriors were admitted into the competition in time for the 1995 season. Their foundation coach was John Monie and key players included Phil Blake, Greg Alexander, Dean Bell and Stephen Kearney. Their season was somewhat of a success with a 13-9 record, however, they narrowly missed the Finals after being deducted 2 competition points for an interchange error, which seemed harsh at the time given they had the match under control when the infringement occurred. Their average home crowd was an encouraging 26,450 in that first season.

The 1996 season ran along very similar lines to their first season with the team again missing the finals with a 10-11 record, losing their last four matches to fall out of contention. The emergence of Stacey Jones was a particular bright spot. It was to commence a fairly long period of poor performances on and off the field from 1997 to 2000 which involved 2 ownership changes, 3 coaching changes (John Monie 1995-1996, Frank Endacott 1997-1998, Mark Graham 1999-2000 with Daniel Anderson appointed for the start of the 2001 season) and severe financial difficulties over a long period of time. Crowds began to decline with 1998 experiencing an average crowd of only 8,858. Things were not going well. It wasn’t as if the Warriors were devoid of talent either, fielding players such as Matthew Ridge (albeit in the twilight of his career), Stacey Jones, Stephen Kearney, Sean Hoppe, Tea Ropati, Joe Vagana, Mark Ellis, Nigel Vagana, Kevin Iro, Quentin Pongia and John Simon. They were talented and could run teams off the park on their day but their biggest issue was consistency.

At the end of the 2000 season and under intense financial pressure the Auckland Warriors were purchased by their current owner Eric Watson. He swept a broom through the club. New colours (black and grey replacing white, blue and green), new name (New Zealand Warriors instead of the Auckland Warriors), new playing list (only 10 players were retained) and a new coach was appointed. Watson essentially started again. It was to be the start of a bright new era which paid immediate dividends. The 2001 season was an outstanding success built on the back of Daniel Anderson, Stacey Jones, flying wingers Francis Meli and Henry Fa’afili, a big and creative pack which included Ali Lauitiiti and new recruits Kevin Campion and Richard Villasanti. The Warriors had found some starch and their first trip to the finals was on the back of a promising 12 win, 2 draw and 12 loss season. They were knocked out comprehensively in their first semi-final against Parramatta but they had laid a foundation for future seasons.

The 2002 season is one the New Zealand public will always remember. Their first minor premiership after a season of 17 wins and 7 losses led to their first finals victories against Canberra (36-20) and Cronulla (16-10) but they were to fall just short against the Freddy Fittler inspired Sydney Roosters. Many thought the Warriors were on their way to a successful dynasty, a premiership just around the corner and 2003 didn’t disappoint with another finals campaign beginning with wins against the Bulldogs (48-22) and Canberra (17-16) but this time they were knocked out in the Grand Final qualifier against Penrith (28-20).

The wheels fell off the bandwagon after the 2003 season with the 2004 season being the worst season ever for the Warriors. Daniel Anderson resigned mid-season with Assistant Coach Tony Kemp taking over and the team only managed 6 wins from 24 matches narrowly missing out on the wooden spoon by only for and against. 2005 was to be an improved showing on the back of fresh recruits Steve Price, Ruben Wiki and Nathan Fien but the Warriors again missed the finals which also finished Tony Kemp’s tenure as coach. It was also club stalwart’s Stacey Jones last game for the club (he did make a come back in later years) when he transferred to the Superleague competition.

Ivan Cleary was appointed as coach for the 2006 season and a new era began, however, the season started disastrously when the Warriors were found guilty of salary cap infringements. The Warriors were docked 4 competition points before a ball had even been kicked. They were to finish the season in 10th place with 12 wins and 12 losses, however, they would have played finals football but for the salary cap infringements. Not bad considering they were picked in many quarters to win the spoon that year. Cleary unearthed Simon Mannering that season and excellent play from Nathan Fien and Grant Rovelli undergirded their success that year. The 2007 and 2008 seasons were to be much more successful with back to back finals campaigns with new recruit Brent Tate a standout. The Warriors victory over Melbourne in the first round of the finals was the first time an 8th placed team had beaten a 1st placed team and they followed this up with a victory against the Roosters but that was to be the end of their run when they were defeated by the Sea Eagles.

2009 was a disaster with the tragic death of young Sonny Fai rocking the team followed by further disappointment winning only 7 games and drawing 2 for the season. In 2010 they returned to the winners circle and the final series (where they were to be knocked out in the first round against the Titans) but 2011 was to be one of their most successful seasons yet with a return to the Grand Final. That team in Ivan Cleary’s last season was to narrowly fall against the Sea Eagles despite the best efforts of James Maloney and Shaun Johnson.

2012 was a disaster with Brian McLennan facing the chop mid-season and Tony Iro taking over for the balance of the season. Matthew Elliot’s first season as coach was marginally better although the Warriors failed to make the finals again while the dreadful start to the 2014 season put paid to another coach with Andrew McFadden taking over and steadying the ship. The Warriors finals hopes are delicately poised and fading in 10th position with 2 games remaining against the Titans and the Panthers. If they make the 8 (which seems unlikely) I don’t think they are going to achieve that maiden premiership this year.

Some statistics for the Statophiles

First Year in the Competition – 1995

Seasons played – 20

Overall Record – 488 games, 228 wins, 7 draws, 253 losses and an overall win percentage of 46.72%

Finals Record – 17 games, 8 wins, 9 losses and an overall win percentage of 47.06%

Wooden spoons – 0

Minor premierships – 1

Grand finals – 2

Final series – 7 (so they’ve made the finals 36.84% of the time)

Likelihood of winning a premiership in the near future 

Negatives

  • Andrew McFadden is the 10th coach in 20 seasons and only Ivan Cleary coached more than 100 games for the club (although Daniel Anderson made it to 92). He doesn’t have a proven track record either. Not a recipe for success.
  • The Warriors are hungry for success but is there a long term strategy? Five year plans are in vogue. Do they have one?
  • The culture of the club is one of inconsistency. Just when you think they are going to shake it for good, along comes another run of losses. The culture of success is a hard one to build and even harder to sustain.
  • New Zealand Rugby League does not have a history of sustained success over long periods of time unlike the All Blacks. The All Blacks expect to win. Much of that comes down to player numbers, but they still expect to win and win they most often do.
  • Every time the Warriors seem to have the administrative side of the business sorted out along comes another drama (the recent fight over Matthew Elliott’s demise between owner’s Eric Watson and Owen Glenn is a case in point).
  • Mt Smart Stadium is in dire need of an overhaul, however, the Auckland City Council’s Stadium Strategy doesn’t involve Rugby League at Mt Smart. It involves capital upgrades to Eden Park. Unfortunately, the Warriors core support is not enamoured with Eden Park. Oh and the Warriors have an abysmal playing record their as well.
  • No one should ever lose sight of the fact that half the Warrior’s games are played in another country. For instance, the Manly Sea Eagles played 17 games in Sydney, 2 in NSW and only 5 in a different State or Country. Conversely, the Warriors played 13 games in New Zealand and 11 games in Australia (thanks to the Bulldogs moving a home game to Waikato). One of their Australian games was in Perth. They might has well have flown to the moon. You can’t tell me that isn’t a huge disadvantage.

Positives

  • New Zealand is a fertile hunting ground for player talent and the Warriors have first pick (or should have first pick) of everything that is available.
  • Even though the Warriors have been inconsistent their inconsistency is of the mercurial kind. They are a dangerous side and never more dangerous than when you write them off.
  • The Warriors need to harness their inner Queenslander and go all ‘us against the World’. If they can tap into that then they would be even more dangerous.
  • Come Origin time the Warriors are virtually untouched. They have the occasional representative like Jacob Lillyman but come Origin time they should be gorging themselves against the other NRL sides.
  • The Warriors might not be the biggest code in New Zealand but they have a very loyal core of supporters. This year their average crowds have been 17,457.
  • They have one of the game’s best halves in Shaun Johnson, one of the deadliest players in the world in Sam Tomkins and one of the biggest forward packs in the NRL.

Verdict

I’d put their chances in the next five years as lower than the Cowboys but higher than the Sharks and Titans (who both have a huge rebuilding project on their hands). Fortunately, for the Warriors all of the building blocks are in place. They have a fairly solid spine in Johnson, Friend/Leuluai, Tomkins and Townsend. Premiership winning? They have a never ending supply of big, mobile skilful forwards and big, fast outside backs (the common denominator always being ‘big’). I have always thought that if they can bring the right coach in (Wayne Bennett would have done nicely) and mix that with the right blend of seasoned professionals of the Steve Price, Kevin Campion and Ruben Wiki variety that the Warriors could get that long awaited premiership. It doesn’t seem like they have all of those ingredients in place yet so I’m thinking they are in the 5-10 year range if not longer category.

Nothing would make me happier than for them to prove me wrong.

What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • The NRL competition this year. Closest in living memory with only 8 competition points separating 1st and 11th with the Dragons an outside chance of making the 8 with only 2 rounds remaining. 7 of the 8 round 25 games have very real implications for the final 8.
  • The Cowboys recent away form. After losing their first 8 away games this year (and a goodly portion of last year’s as well) the Cows have bounced back and won 3 of their last 4 away games including wins against the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs and a 1 point loss against the Panthers. Oh and they poleaxed the Tigers by 58 points but that was at home.
  • The Eels aren’t going away this year. Just when you think they are down and out the Hayne Plane and Chris Sandow 2.0 keep lifting them off the canvas and they are right in the mix again.
  • The All Blacks. Just devastating once they got moving.
  • The Wallabies. I’m giving them full marks for trying and I’m not just being condescending. They kept the effort going all night. I think Ewen McKenzie is preparing them well. They are just short of a few cattle. Depth is always going to be an issue.

What wasn’t?

Wayne Rooney - Photo by Gordon Flood - CC-BY-2.0

Wayne Rooney – Photo by Gordon Flood CC-BY-2.0

  • Man U – 4-0 loss to MK Dons. Enough said.
  • The Warriors. Just a brutal loss to the Roosters after a disappointing away loss to the Knights. They are now on the outside looking in, relying on results to go their way to make the 8.

Other random thoughts 

  • PNG Hunters are now counting on other results going their way this weekend for them to make the finals as well. With 2 points in their pocket because of the bye, they will only make the finals if Ipswich loses against the Dolphins or if Tweed Heads loses to Mackay by greater than 11 points. I’m sounding like a broken record but 6th place in their first season is a fantastic result and with the QRL announcing increased crowds at all venues hosting the Hunters it is sounding like a good thing for the Intrust Super Cup as well. 

Bill James Award 

Ben Barba – Run Metres – 95m, Tries – 3, Try Assists – 1, Tackle Breaks – 1, Tackles – 12, Offloads – 0, Line Breaks – 1, Line Break Assists – 0, Errors – 1 and Star players carrying a million plus people on their back and earning more than their fair share of grief from the press – 1. 

NRL Tips for Round 25 

Home teams first

Bulldogs vs Rabbitohs – Rabbitohs (The Rabbitohs were comprehensively outplayed by the Cows last week and just when their title favourite buzz was reaching a crescendo. Maguire will have them firing for this one and the Bulldogs pipped them by one last time so they aren’t going to sneak up on them again)

Broncos vs Dragons – Broncos (This is the Grand Final for both sides this year and endowed with all of that historical baggage. Benji, Benny Barba starting to hit his straps, Bennett coming to town next year and Hodges at fullback, the game probably has more story lines than it deserves. I think the Broncos will shade the Dragons in this one)

Knights vs Eels – Eels (Trap game for the Eels. The Knights have been dangerous at home in the back half of the season but everything is on the line for the Eels so they should jag this one)

Raiders vs Tigers – Raiders (Not playing for much but the Raiders are trending upwards as players come back from injury and the Tigers are trending downwards and that’s an understatement. I’m going with the home side for this one)

Roosters vs Storm – Roosters (This will be a great game. The Storm seem to be warming up in time for the finals while the Roosters are doing the same thing. Should be close)

Warriors vs Titans – Warriors (Titans are plucky but are very hit and miss at the moment which isn’t much different from the Warriors)

Sea Eagles vs Panthers – Sea Eagles (This is probably the second best game this round but I think the Sea Eagles will be smarting after last week’s loss to the Eels. They rarely lose back to back)

Cowboys vs Sharks – Cowboys (The Cows are pretty much playing Cronulla’s U/13 side)

Last week – 3/8 

Season so far – 100/176 

EPL Tips for Round 3 

Home teams first

Burnley vs Manchester United – Man U 2-0 (I didn’t think there would be so much pressure on Man U after only 2 rounds of the Premier League but here we are. I thought Van Gaal would be able to steady the ship and he still might be able to but they are on a knife edge after the MK Dons debacle)

Manchester City vs Stoke City – Man City 4-0 (The Man City machine at home. Not much more needs to be said)

Newcastle United vs Crystal Palace – Newcastle 1-0 (I just hope the game is better than the Geordies game against Villa. To say Newcastle are struggling up front is an understatement. The troops are growing restless)

QPR vs Sunderland – Draw 1-1 (I don’t think there will be much in this. QPR might jag a win but I think a draw is more likely)

Swansea vs WBA – Swansea 2-1 (I think everyone has been surprised at the Swans 2 win start to the season and I think they will be too strong at home for the Baggies)

West Ham vs Southampton – Draw 1-1 (Too close to call. This could go either way)

Everton vs Chelsea – Chelsea 2-1 (Everton has had a below par start to the season with 2 draws. Conversely, Chelsea have won 2 from 2 and their second half against a resolute Leicester last week spoke of better things to come)

Aston Villa vs Hull – Aston Villa 2-1 (Villa and Hull both have 4 points to show for the early action, however, I expect Villa to shade Hull this week. Both will do well to avoid the drop this year)

Tottenham vs Liverpool – Draw 2-2 (Marquee matchup which the Reds will be desperate to win after last week’s shellacking by City)

Leicester vs Arsenal – Arsenal 1-0 (The Gunners will miss Giroud, especially while Alexis Sanchez is getting used to things. They should have enough to get the job done)

I’ve adopted the scoring system utilised by Mark Lawrenson on the BBC (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point and picking an exact score THREE points) and even though he wouldn’t know me from Adam we are going head to head all season long. It’s on like Donkey Kong (unless I get a letter from his lawyer or Donkey Kong’s lawyer and then I’m tipping against myself again).

Last week – Me – 9 (7 right with 1 perfect score) and Lawro – 7 (5 right with 1 perfect score)

Season so far – Me – 15 and Lawro – 13 

I take an early lead. 

Question for you

When do you think the Warriors will win their first premiership?

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 4 September 2014 titled ‘Three ways to make the end of the NRL season much more interesting’

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2 thoughts on “Long has been the Winter of our Discontent – Once Were Warriors – Part 4

  1. Pingback: 2016 NRL Final Trimester Report Part 4 – There can be only one! | The Game of Sport

  2. Pingback: Can the Warriors be fixed? | The Game of Sport

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