OPINION: What can the Warriors do to avoid a bottom-table finish and perhaps even make a push for their first finals berth since 2011?
Why the Warriors can succeed
The fact that nobody is expecting anything from the Warriors this season may just play into the team's hands.
Usually fans and the media are talking up the Auckland club, predicting top four finishes and deep finals runs. However, there has been none of that this year, with most of the debate centering around whether they can avoid the wooden spoon.
Without that same pressure to deliver, who knows, the Warriors might actually start the season with a bang - something fans have not seen in a very long time.
The case can be made that the pressure of previous seasons has caused the players to struggle, but only time will tell if that is truly the case in their first match against the Rabbitohs.
However, there will be a different kind of pressure on the players due to the added depth of the squad.
Second-year coach Stephen Kearney has added some respectable players into the squad which he can fall back on if players fail to perform or get injured. - something he did not have last season. There is competition for positions, and players know they will have to perform to hang on to their spot.
On top of that, this is Kearney's squad, these are players he believes will thrive under his system.
The likes of Tohu Harris, Adam Blair, Blake Green, and Peta Hiku have all been involved with Kearney at club or Test level in the past. They know what to expect from him and, in turn, he will know how to get the best out of them as players.
Among the failings of his first year, it’s undeniable that Kearney managed to instill some improvements. The Warriors made the second lowest number of errors for the season (220) and conceded the fifth fewest penalties (5.6 per game). Astonishingly enough, they also had the best completion rate at 79.7 percent.
Where the Warriors need to improve most
The Warriors need to learn how to win games away from Mount Smart Stadium if they are to have a chance of playing finals footy in 2018.
They only recorded one road win last season against the Gold Coast Titans, and since 2012 their record away from their Penrose fortress is 23-49.
Seven of the eight teams who played finals football last season won at least seven of their 12 away matches.
Another primary area the Warriors need to rectify is their defence. They conceded 575 points last season, which was the third worst in the NRL behind only the Titans (638) and Newcastle Knights (648). In other words, they conceded 23.95 points per game while only scoring 18.5 points per game.
And it’s their second half in general which has become a huge cause for concern.
According to NRL.com statistics, the Warriors conceded 45 tries in the first half of matches and 53 in the second. Conversely, 47 of their tries were scored in first halves, which dropped significantly to just 31 during second stanzas.
Those numbers proved to be critical factors in the Warriors season, with seven of the team's 17 losses coming when they were either tied or leading at the break.
The Warriors have made a multitude of changes to their squad for this campaign.
They have replaced players who have been with the club for years and brought in players who have been a part of championships teams.
In total, they lost over 1200 games worth of NRL experience and in return have gained 1058 first grade games of experience.
Ins: Tohu Harris (Storm), Gerard Beale (Sharks), Leivaha Pulu, Agnatius Paasi, Kane Lawton (Titans), Manaia Cherrington (Sharks), Adam Blair (Broncos), Peta Hiku (Warrington Wolves), Matiu Love-Henry (Norths Devils), Blake Green (Sea Eagles), Anthony Gelling (Wigan Warriors)
Outs: Kieran Foran (Bulldogs), Manu Vatuvei (Salford Red Devils), Tui Lolohea, Ben Matulino (Wests Tigers), Bureta Faraimo (Hull FC), Charlie Gubb, Ata Hingano (Raiders), Toafofoa Sipley (Sea Eagles), Ryan Hoffman (Storm), Jacob Lillyman (Knights), Bodene Thompson (Leigh Centurions), Matthew Allwood (Wynnum Manly), Ofahiki Ogden (Bulldogs)
Player to watch - Shaun Johnson
The star halfback has been far from his best since his horrific injury in 2015 but remains the key if the Warriors are to succeed.
It’s clear that the the team struggles without him. Their overall record when Johnson isn’t on the field in the last five years is a miserable 2-17.
Once again, Johnson will have a new halves partner in Blake Green. The arrival of the 31-year-old might be the piece which can help Johnson rediscover his potential due to the Australian’s proven track record of bringing out the best in star halfbacks.
Green has worked with some of the best halves in the game including Daly Cherry-Evans and Cooper Cronk and will do his best to take the heat off Johnson with his clinical approach to the game.
Both players have spoken this offseason about how Green will be taking the reins, allowing Johnson to run with the ball more and threaten defensive lines with his prodigious and unpredictable running game.
In 18 matches last season, Johnson recorded 17 try assists and 11 linebreak assists.
We all know anything can happen in the NRL but it’s hard to make a strong case that the Warriors will finish above eight teams after 25 rounds of rugby league.
From what we’ve seen during the pre-season, the addition of trainer Alex Corvo will help the players on the field but they still need to improve on so many things if they are make the finals cut.
In order to qualify they’ll need to play consistently across the entire 80 minutes, while winning games on the road.
They can’t afford to start the season slowly, it’s crucial that the side starts strongly and builds from that if they are to become a genuine threat, otherwise it could easily turn to custard very quickly and Kearney could soon find himself walking the plank.
My heart is telling me the Warriors will make the finals and as much as I'd love to say they will play finals football, my head is telling me they will miss out once again. I can’t see them making the necessary improvements to qualify in a deep 16-team tournament and they will ultimately fall short of the mark in what will is set to be another gruelling season.
Either way, you can expect plenty more moments where fans are sitting on the edges of their seats, biting nails with heart rates exploding through the roof. That’s just life as a Warriors fan.
Projected NRL ladder
1. Cowboys, 2.Roosters, 3. Storm, 4. Sharks, 5. Eels, 6. Broncos, 7. Raiders, 8. Dragons, 9. Panthers, 10. Knights, 11. Warriors 12. Sea Eagles, 13. Rabbitohs, 14. Tigers, 15. Bulldogs, 16. Titans