All the action in the Warriors’ NRL season opener against the Titans.
And so it begins.
Another Warriors season, another fresh start and another new coach.
The Nathan Brown era starts this afternoon against the Titans, who are tipped as one of teams to watch after finishing last season strongly and improving their roster.
But there are high hopes at the Warriors too. Brown is the club’s sixth head coach in the last decade – following Brian McClennan, Matt Elliott, Andrew McFadden, Stephen Kearney and Todd Payten – and he has a lot to prove, after his mostly unsuccessful tenure at Newcastle.
There’s a sense that this latest change of direction simply has to pay dividends, given the overhaul of the coaching staff and a significant reshaping of the squad.
Brown inherits arguably the best squad a new Warriors coach has had since McClennan in 2012. He has the core of the team that performed well in difficult circumstances last season, boosted by some important new recruits.
Giant prop Addin Fonua-Blake is the biggest signing in years, the kind of dominant middle forward the club has desperately needed but hasn’t had.
It’s a lot to live up to for the 25-year-old but the early signs are good, with his impressive stint in the pre-season trial and willingness to take on a leadership role in the pack.
Second rower Ben Murdoch-Masila offers a point of difference on the edge – with his size and power – though he will need to adapt to the pace of the NRL, especially given the new rules, after an extended period in Super League.
And centre Euan Aitken will bring yardage, energy and defensive nous to a backline also boosted by the return of David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo, after their early departures last year for family reasons.
Brown has impressed with his first selection.
Fusitu’a is back on the wing, after being tried at centre by Kearney while Peta Hiku returns to his favoured left centre position.
Tohu Harris, who confirmed a new three-year deal on Friday, is ideal for the No 13 position and Eli Katoa and Bayley Sironen offer variety in the second row.
Utility Jazz Tevaga would prefer to start but brings unmatched impact off the bench, complemented by the heavy artillery of Leeson Ah Mau, Bunty Afoa and Murdoch-Masila.
One of biggest early tests for the Warriors, aside from integrating so many new players, with be getting the best out of their spine.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Kodi Nikorima and Wayde Egan haven’t played that much together and the NRL is presents a steep learning curve.
Blake Green was preferred to Harris-Tavita until his departure last July and Karl Lawton was the No 1 hooker last season.
“Hopefully [their] combination can work well for us over a period of time,” said Brown. “You would like to think they are only going to grow over time; the more you play together the better you get.”
Ahead of today’s match, which is Brown’s first NRL game since August 2019, the Australian was reluctant to set specific goals for the season.
“Obviously we would like to get some consistency,” said Brown. “All the teams that missed out on the eight last year, they missed out for a [few reasons]; some bad luck, injuries, lack of consistency, recruitment.
“But there are plenty of sides that seem like they’ve improved our squads through some recruitment decisions, but getting the consistency and combinations is going to be a real key.”
That starts against the Titans, who finished ninth last season and have been bolstered by the arrival of State of Origin stars David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.
“There is a lot of noise about [the Titans] and I am sure they are very confident about what they are doing,” said Brown. “We understand what their strengths are but it is more about knowing what we can do for each other and what we can do as a club to get ourselves going.”
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