Ben Francis: Best NZ Warriors XVII to never take field (together)

OPINION: A week into April, it's hard to believe no sport is being played in this part of the world because of that 'C' word (which I refuse to say). 

Usually around this time of the year, keyboard warriors are in sublime form, criticising players and coaches of their favorite sporting teams.

Especially if you follow the NZ Warriors, who (except for 2018) are well-renowned for their slow starts to the NRL season - remember, they were already 0-2, when this season was stopped, because of you know what.

With the season on hold, fans have resorted to naming their best imaginary line-ups from their teams they follow.

Some have literally gone for the best 17 and filled their benches with four backs, which is just unrealistic.

So, as somebody who covers the Warriors, here's my selection from the 243 men who have represented the club since 1995. 

Ben Francis: Best NZ Warriors XVII to never take field (together)

1-Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 

78 matches (2017-present), 21 tries

The incumbent captain is still growing his legacy in the No.1 jersey, but he's certainly the best to play fullback at the Warriors.

His Dally-M-winning performance in 2018 should be enough to justify that.

He's also a two-time winner of the club's 'Simon Mannering Medal' for Player of the Year. 

2-Francis Meli

110 matches (1998-2005), 60 tries

The first member of the great 2002 Grand Final team to be listed.

He holds the club record with 23 tries - five in one match against the Canterbury Bulldogs - in a season, back in 2003 (equalled by David Fusitua in 2018), which saw him win Player of the Year that season.

3-Clinton Toopi

129 matches (1999-2006), 57 tries

Clinton Toopi during the 2003 NRL season.
Clinton Toopi during the 2003 NRL season. Photo credit: Photosport

He was a staple in the centres for seven seasons and the club's leading tryscorer in their first Grand Final season.

He had it all - speed and power - and was electrifying at his best. 

4-Jerome Ropati 

145 matches (2003-14), 54 tries

A player whose career was cruelly cut short by injury, but was always solid and consistent on the field, even at five-eighth or fullback.

He was often the provider for Manu Vatuvei's scoring efforts.

One game that stands out was his performance at fullback in a 35-6 win over the Parramatta Eels on a wet Mt Smart Stadiumin 2010. Luckily, injury didn't rob him of a spot in the 2011 Grand Final.

5-Manu Vatuvei 

Manu Vatuevei during the 2005 NRL season.
Manu Vatuevei during the 2005 NRL season. Photo credit: Photosport

226 matches (2004-17), 152 tries

The club's - and New Zealand’s - all-time leading NRL tryscorer has to be included, even though his his career at the club ended in disappointing fashion.

He brought a unique style of play, often coming off his wing for early carries - something more common these days. He had his flaws, but will always be remembered as a club hero.

My personal favourite try came against the Penrith Panthers in 2010, when Issac John launched a mid-field bomb, and Vatuvei caught it five metres out from the line and dived over. He was named Warriors Player of the Year that season. 

6-Shaun Johnson 

162 matches (2011-18), 68 tries, 326 goals, 13 field goals 

Shaun Johnson during the 2011 NRL Grand Final.
Shaun Johnson during the 2011 NRL Grand Final. Photo credit: Photosport

The master playmaker's time at the club came to a shock end, but he departed as the teams all-time leading points scorer and often copped criticism that wasn't deserved.

He was an excitement machine, hopping, skipping and jumping around the park - just look at his 2011 try against the Brisbane Broncos - but was never the same after two horrible ankle/leg injuries.

Also played in the 2011 Grand Final in his debut season. 

7-Stacey Jones 

261 matches (1995-2005, 2009), 77 tries, 176 goals, 14 field goals

Easily one of the best players to come from New Zealand.

He made his debut in the Warriors' inaugural season and went onto anchor the halves for the next decade, including in the 2002 Grand Final.

He returned for one final season in 2009 and produced more game-winning moments. A true club legend.

8-Ruben Wiki 

87 matches (2005-08), 12 tries

A fearsome prop, who led from the front in his four years with the team.

Was the Warriors’ Player of the Year in 2005 and became the first Kiwi to reach 300 NRL games in his final season. His impact is still with the club today as a strength and conditioning guru.

Nobody will forget his final game at Mount Smart, when he - literally - destroyed Sia Soliola with a thumping hit-up.

Monty Beetham during the 2001 NRL season.
Monty Beetham during the 2001 NRL season. Photo credit: Photosport

9-Monty Betham 

101 matches (1999-2005), 10 tries

A man who could alternate between lock and hooker, Betham was a tough, aggressive defender, who also captained the team for a period.

Was in the Warriors squad of 2002, but injury saw his miss the Grand Final.

An NRL players' poll once voted him the rival you'd least want to pick a fight with.

10-Steve Price 

91 matches (2005-09), 13 tries

Steve Price and Ruben Wiki during the 2008 NRL season.
Steve Price and Ruben Wiki during the 2008 NRL season. Photo credit: Photosport

Another former captain who had a big impact at the club. Like Wiki, he led from the front during his time at the Warriors, winning Player of the Year in 2006. Price arrived at the club from a winning culture at the Bulldogs and probably the best Australian to play for the Warriors. Price and Wiki's front-row partnership was special, and the Warriors today would kill for one like that now.

11-Ali Lauiti'iti

115 matches (1998-2003), 33 tries

A big barnstorming forward with incredible ball skills, and played a big role in the Warriors Grand Final run in 2002, which led to him winning the Warriors Player of the Year and the Dally M Second Rower of the Year. Best way to describe him is that he had the ability of a back, but in a forward's body. Was cool to see him rerun to NZ to finish his career with the reserve grade side in 2018.

12-Simon Mannering 

301 matches (2005-17), 63 tries

Do I really need to explain this one? Five-times he won Player of the Year, leading to the award being named after him. He led the team through some tough times, but also some great moments. A true Warrior. 

13-Michael Luck 

150 matches (2006-12), 7 tries

Michael Luck during the 2011 NRL season.
Michael Luck during the 2011 NRL season. Photo credit: Photosport

The Aussie forward is probably my second favorite player to represent the Warriors, because 

no matter what situation he was working his arse off. A true tackle machine including a then 76-tackle NRL game in 2009, the same year he won Warriors Player of the Year. He also played in the 2011 Grand Final. Nothing flashy, just a workhorse who wore his heart on his sleeve.

14-Lance Hohaia 

185 matches (2002-11), 57 tries, 64 goals, 1 field goal

A player who was under-appreciated but is a cult hero due to his amazing ability as a utility. I swear he played every position - even prop - he’s also the only Warrior to play in both Warriors Grand Final. His best position was fullback, but always put on a good performance wherever he played. Sad to see his career end the way it did too due to concussion after being punched in the head during the 2014 Super League Grand Final. My favourite Warriors player.

15-Kevin Campion 

44 matches (2001-02), 4 tries

He only spent two years at the Warriors but made a massive impact due to his work rate and toughness, which will always be remembered by fans. Also played in the 2002 Grand Final and is one of the club's best-ever signings.

16-Ben Matulino

212 matches (2008-17), 17 tries

Consistently excellent during his time at the Warriors which saw him win Player of the Year twice in 2012 and 15. During his prime, he was underrated, which sounds weird saying considering he played 23 tests for the Kiwis. Was never flash, except when shoulder charges were allowed.

Jacob Lillyman, Simon Mannering and Ben Matulino.
Jacob Lillyman, Simon Mannering and Ben Matulino. Photo credit: Photosport

17-Jacob Lillyman 

188 matches (2009-17), 6 tries

Durable, hardworking, consistent. Arrived at the club as a lock and left as an Origin prop. While he was around for some tough years, Lillyman was one of the few consistent 

Coach. Ivan Clearly 

Currently the club's longest-serving coach. Most of his years in charge were successful with. He coached lots of the players above, and fans were sad to see him leave, although he's only made the finals once since leaving, which happened in 2014. 

Ben Francis is the digial sports producer at Newshub