New Zealand Warriors: How will the 2019 NRL season shape up?

2019-02-08 01:46:31

OPINION: The NRL season is almost upon us and the Warriors rollercoaster is clicking into gear ahead of another campaign of twists and turns.

Three weeks out from the Warriors' first pre-season fixture, Stuff reporters David Long and Jackson Thomas lay out what they expect to see from the Kiwi club this season versus what their gut tells them might really happen.

Jackson Thomas

Ever the optimist, I'm expecting the Warriors to not only return to the finals in 2019 but to make a decent splash as well – and challenge for a spot in the grand final.

In an interview with Stuff on Thursday, Warriors chief executive Cameron George said the squad looked fitter, faster and more focused than last year's unit and the young players, in particular, had really stepped up.

Now, he's the boss. So of course he is going to say that.

But there was genuine sense of enthusiasm and excitment in George's voice and it was enough to get me jazzed for the new campaign.

The Warriors won their first five games last year and there's no reason why we can't expect the same blistering start this time around, with the opening month of footy against four sides who all missed the playoffs last year.

No Shaun Johnson will hurt, but the mail on new recruit Adam Keighran is that he is a composed half with a pinpoint kicking game and the frontrunner for the vacant No 7 jumper.

However, despite having both the Dally M Medallist and competition's leading try-scorer on the books, it feels like something is still missing with the 2019 unit.

Heart says off the back of last year and a bit more experience under their belts, this is a top-four side.

But the gut is leaning towards a few injuries derailing another promising campaign.

The Warriors have depth, but questions remain as to whether it is necessarily NRL-quality depth.

The decision to not chase a marquee player to replace Johnson could come back to bite them.

Expectation: Grand final. Reality: Sixth or seventh-placed finish.

David Long

Given that last year the Warriors reached the finals for the first time since 2011, before disappointing in losing to the Panthers in the elimination final, there should be an expectation that they go better in 2019.

That would start off by finishing higher than eighth on the ladder and really, the expectation should be to finish in the top four, then reaching the preliminary finals.

While the acquisition of Leeson Ah Mau makes the Warriors stronger up front and their young props should continue to improve, the obvious question is how will they make up for the loss of Shaun Johnson.

But it's not whether Chanel Tevita Harris or Adam Keighran step up that's the main issue, as both players have the potential to do a handy job at halfback.

The real concern is whether Blake Green can stay injury-free. With Green in the halves, the Warriors can survive with a rookie No 7, but if Green were to go down too, then that's where the real problems start.

If they were able to sign another Jeff Robson-type character, a veteran player in the halves, without an ego, who's looking for one last season before hanging up the boots, that would have been perfect.

Sadly though, that player doesn't exist and the Warriors' season is hanging on the 32-year-old Green.

Can the Warriors reach the grand final? Yes they can, this is a well-rounded squad, with plenty of depth and growing experience, but it will all come down to how they cope with life after Johnson.

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