2013 NRL Season Preview: New Zealand Warriors

By Brady Foray Writers

The Warriors were an absolute debacle last season. The 2011 runners-up were expected to bounce back and threaten other premiership heavyweights.  Nope. Their coach was sacked. Key players left. Many went down with injuries early and never returned and now they go into the competition this year with an eight-game losing run to their name. Enter Matthew Elliot. The former Bradford, Raiders and Penrith coach is the man earmarked to get the Warriors out of their rut and maybe lead them to a maiden premiership.

All was not lost for some in the Warriors camp last season though. Take for example Ben Matulino, who won the Warriors’ Player of the Year. In his 22 games, Matulino averaged 18.3 tackles and 127 metres per game. The big man solidified his place in the New Zealand Test team and became the first ever Toyota Cup graduate to play 100 NRL games.

This season will be somewhat of a transitional year for the club with Lewis Brown, James Maloney and Ukuma Ta’ai moving elsewhere and tireless workhorse Michael Luck retiring. In their place, the Warriors signed former Storm players Todd Lowrie and Dane Neilson and experienced halfback Thomas Leuluai.

Signings: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Dane Nielsen (Storm), Todd Lowrie (Storm), Dominique Peyroux (Titans), Harry Siejka (Panthers)

Departures: Peta Hiku (Sea Eagles), Lewis Brown (Panthers), Krisnan Inu (Bulldogs, mid-season), Michael Luck (retired), James Maloney (Roosters), Toka Likiliki (Knights), Ligi Sao (Sea Eagles), Omar Slaimankhel (Japanese Rugby), Ukuma Ta’ai (Huddersfield), Jordan Meads (French RL)

Key to Success:

The Warriors’ key to success has nothing to do with their on the field performances. The club’s management, players and coach need to concentrate on club harmony before even considering their season prospects. As soon as Matthew Elliot was signed up as coach in October last year, several players spoke of the appointment with disdain. The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Webster summed it up brilliantly, that Elliot had lost the dressing room before seeing inside of the dressing room.

Player to Watch:

In his three seasons at the Warriors, five-eighth James Maloney was the most influential player at the club. In his 75 games with the club he scored over 500 points. He is a Rooster now. His role now lies in the hands of halfback Thomas Leuluai who returns to the club that he debuted for as a fresh faced 18-year-old. Now 27, Leuluai returns with almost 200 games, a Challenge Cup trophy and Grand Final win at Wigan Warriors, a game where he won Man of the Match.  Leuluai (pictured left), a 30-Test veteran for New Zealand is an important figure for not only the team this season but one in the career of expected halves partner Shaun Johnson.

Erratic Eddy says:

“It wasn’t that long ago when Elijah Taylor (along with others) voiced their opinions that interim coach Tony Iro was the man for the Warriors coaching job AFTER Elliot was made coach. Confidence must be sky high at the Warriors. Elliot did come back later and say that most of the team are terrible trainers. Eye for an eye I suppose?”

“Good luck to Jerome Ropati too. An injury-free season in NSW Cup would be a success for him at this stage. A trifecta of season-ending injuries would see the end of him.”

Strongest 17: 1- Kevin Locke 2- Bill Tupou 3- Dane Nielson 4- Jerome Ropati 5- Manu Vatuvei 6- Thomas Leuluai 7-Shaun Johnson 8- Ben Matulino 9- Nathan Friend 10- Sam Rapira 11- Simon Mannering (C) 12- Feleti Mateo 13- Todd Lowrie Interchange: 14- Elijah Taylor 15- Ben Henry 16- Russell Packer 17- Jacob Lillyman. 18th Man: Sione Lousi.

Predicted Position: 13th

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