NRL 2018: Why Warriors can actually pull it together
DO you believe in the Warriors? I do, every year, and it's a sickness, an illness, they always find a way to let me down. But I will believe in them again in 2018.
Here's five reasons to get excited about New Zealand next season.
New look pack
In previous years the Warriors have rolled out forward packs filled with giants, many of the home grown variety. This time they're putting out something very different, on the back of marquee purchases like Adam Blair and Tohu Harris. With the ever-reliable Simon Mannering, underrated Titans Agnatius Paasi and Leivaha Pulu as well as rising youngsters Albert Vete and Sam Lisone filling out the pack it promises to offer something different to the New Zealand forwards of the pass and given their struggles, perhaps something different is what they need.
Ever since James Maloney left at the end of 2011, the Warriors have struggled to find the right halves partner for Shaun Johnson. For a variety of reasons Kieran Foran, Jeff Robson, Thomas Leuluai, Chad Townsend and Tui Lolohea were all tried and later discarded. Blake Green joins the club on a hefty deal from Manly, and could be just what Johnson needs.
Green understands how to play the complimentary role, having done so for Cooper Cronk and Daly Cherry-Evans over the last two tears. With an underrated kicking game and plenty of experience, Green's understated but effective style could be the perfect contrast to Johnson and his leadership and professionalism will be good for a club which has lacked plenty of those qualities in the past.
We're yet to see the best of Tuivasa-Sheck in a Warriors jersey after a knee injury struck him down for much of the 2016 season. Tuivasa-Shec built slowly through 2017 and began to show flashes of his best by season's end. He was also in top form for New Zealand in the World Cup before an off-game against Fiji put the brakes on his comeback. For the Warriors to end their finals drought, they need some of the old Tuivasa-Sheck and they need it soon.
It doesn't matter than Johnson hasn't played finals footy since 2011, it doesn't matter that he doesn't run the ball like he once did, it doesn't matter that the Warriors are letting his prime go by without ever surrounding him with a truly excellent side, Shaun Johnson is still one of the most exciting players in the world. With a bit of luck, Johnson can get the support and consistency he needs to return to the finals.
It must end
Every year the Warriors miss the finals means they're one season closer to returning to the finals. With Parramatta returning to the playoffs last season, the Warriors now own the NRL's longest finals drought along with the Tigers. Given the talent at their disposal such a run is truly unacceptable, but the longer it goes on, the closer we get to it ending. If Stephen Kearney can't make it happen this year it would not be a shock if his job is in danger.