With the start of the NRL season only days away, fans of the New Zealand Warriors will be pondering the chances of their team. Wondering, they will be, whether the sleeping giant of rugby league will soar to heights unseen before: or will they crash and fall into a chasm of ineptitude, leaving a long trail of debris strewn across yet another dismal season of discontent.
Most have written off their chances -particularly across the Tasman- of making a top eight appearance this year, let alone visiting the rarefied heights of a grand final appearance. This lack of expectation may well work in their favour. Last season, laden with the pressure of being expected to be a major contender to take out the premiership, they collapsed in spectacular fashion to finish an abysmal fourteenth place. With seemingly no hope been given to their chances, it may free the shackles mentally and help them display their true ability.
Please excuse me while, like others today, I visit the confessional. “Forgive me Father, for I may have sinned”. “What, my child, have you done?” Well, Father, at the end of last season I had serious doubts as to whether Ivan Cleary was the right person to take the New Zealand Warriors to the promised land of grand final glory”. “You see, their attack last year was about as likely to succeed as you are to endorse your parish to indulge in random acts of indiscriminate mating out of wedlock”. “Overall it was not a good season, and, not only that, the two previous seasons under Cleary, they had to rely on a last minute charge to get to the top eight”. “My child, has Cleary admitted any mistakes were made? “Yes Father, he has. He admitted that he got the fitness regime wrong, focusing on bulking up and not enough on getting the players aerobic fitness levels to the desired level”. “Anything else that he has admitted to needing to be changed, my child?” “Well, he has changed his Captain for the season and he has recruited what appear to be some good players for the crucial halves positions”. “Well then my child, there is no harm done in holding the opinion you have. But, from what you say, this coach appears to be admitting there have been mistakes made, and, after all, if you accept and admit you have made a mistake, then, at least, you have a chance of changing and improving. And remember, my child, you should always admit if you were wrong about someone”. “Oh Father, I’ll happily state publicly that I was wrong about Cleary if he gets the desired results this season. Thank you, Father, you are so wise”
I’m back. Now, where were we? Ah yes, The Warriors chances for 2010. The biggest change this year has been the demotion of Steve Price from the captaincy. This is a bold move on the part of Coach Ivan Cleary, not to mention controversial. New Captain Simon Mannering has no previous experience of captaincy and will have to learn the job in the furnace that is the toughest football competition in the world. Not a particularly easy task, it has to be said.
It has been stated that some of the playing staff do not relate easily to Price. So what? Surely, when as a player you are paid several hundred thousand dollars per annum, that makes you a professional. Hence, you get out and perform each week to the best of your ability regardless of what you may think of the captain or any other of your teammates.
What this move potentially may do is to disenfranchise their best player. And make no mistake about it; Price is the Warriors star player and vital to the chances of the Auckland based franchise making the top eight. If his heart is not in the cause as much as it once was, then this could cast a cloud over proceedings at Mt Smart this year. The club will be hoping that Price maintains the professionalism in his last season of league that he has displayed throughout his career. Possibly, a better way to go would have been to keep Price on as Captain and have Mannering as his vice-captain. That way keeping the experience at the top and giving Mannering an opportunity to learn the ropes from Price for a season, before taking over for 2011.
Already Price is missing from this Sunday’s match against the Gold Coast Titans due to injury. And that was a major problem last year. They lost Brent Tate in the third round. His leadership qualities were sorely missed last season. With him back, he will add some experience to the backline. Not only that, but he is a highly competitive performer that will not take a step backwards against anyone. He has a bit of mongrel in him, as it were. And it seems that is what the Warriors need as they appear to be no longer feared, as Wendell Sailor stated last season. Gone are the days when Monty Betham and Awen Guttenbeil would hand out a reasonable sized dose of justice, when it was called for. Perhaps it is time for one or two of the forwards, as well as the likes of Tate to start putting some fear back into the opposition teams.
And add an attacking halves pairing to the mix of ingredients required. With the Stacey Jones experiment having failed last year, Warriors management went in search of an attacking halfback. What they found was NRL bad boy Brett Seymour. Having had his contract torn up at twice previously for alcohol related incidents, he is on his last chance in the NRL. So far so good for Seymour and the Warriors as he has stayed out of trouble off the field, and on it has showed promise in the pre season trials. While not much can be read into trial matches at times, Seymour has certainly appeared to feel at home in the role of leading his side around the paddock.
Whether this will translate into a better attacking performance this season remains to be seen. But Seymour certainly has the talent. No one at his previous clubs got rid of him for a lack of playing ability, that’s for sure.
And the Warriors certainly do not lack talent as a team. With a roster of the quality they so clearly possess, it would be expected that they reach the top eight.