Ben Francis: NZ Warriors' mid-winter (of discontent) report card

OPINION: If you thought the NZ Warriors have had a rough 2020, well guess what... it's only going to get more difficult. 

No doubt, this has been the most challenging season in the club's 26-year history and it could easily end up being worse than the 2004 debacle - six wins, 18 losses, 14th on the table - with 10 uncertain weeks on the horizon. 

A week before the 2020 season began, the team was confident of bouncing back from a disasterous 2019 campaign. They had high hopes and big smiles on their faces, although some players were reluctant to shake hands, with the coronavirus pandemic starting to wreak havoc in New Zealand. 

Midway through their season-opener against Newcastle Knights on March 14, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced strict travel restrictions for entering the country and the Warriors' future in the 2020 competition was thrown up in the air. 

Some players returned home, but the rest recommitted to remain in Australia and relocated to Kingscliff. They got through one more game before the season was suspended and they returned home, quarantining for two weeks.

After the NRL made plans to return at the end of May, the Warriors fought tooth and nail to get an exemption to return to Australia, and finally got clearance 24 hours before flying out to Australia on May 3. Another two-week quarantine in Tamworth followed, although they were allowed to train inside the team bubble. 

Since play resumed, there have been mixed results on the field, while the drama off it has only intensified. 

Coach Stephen Kearney was sacked after a dismal showing against the South Sydney Rabbitohs and has been replaced by assistant Todd Payten, while owner Mark Robinson has publicly revealed some players won't be re-signed next season. 

Stephen Kearney was replaced by Todd Payten as NZ Warriors coach.
Stephen Kearney was replaced by Todd Payten as NZ Warriors coach. Photo credit: Photosport

Some experienced players languish on the sideline injured and the already depleted Warriors squad will be worse off in a matter of days, with more than 300 games of NRL experience in Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu'a, Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa returning home.

All this has culminated in the Warriors lingering near the foot of the standings with a 3-7 record. 

Warriors season review to date: 


The emergence of young players in the team has been the only good thing to have happened this season. 

Eliesa Katoa, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Jack Murchie have made the most of their opportunities, and appear to be stars in the making. 

Katoa was arguably the Warriors' best player before lockdown, leading the team in run metres and looking strong with ball in hand. His form earned him a four-year contract extension.

Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Eliesa Katoa and Jack Murchie.
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Eliesa Katoa and Jack Murchie.

Taunoa-Brown, who signed before the season, and Murchie, who signed in May from the Canberra Raiders, were both latecomers into the side, and have impressed, both earning contract extensions until the end of 2022. 


Everything else. 

Best game

With only three wins to choose from, the Warriors' 18-0 win over St George Illawarra Dragons in their first game back from the suspended season is the clear standout. 

The Warriors were far from perfect, but did have a near-perfect completion rate 46/48, going 75 minutes without a mistake.

Worst game

Payten says the Warriors' recent 46-10 defeat to Cronulla Sharks was their "worst 'performance of the season" and you can't disagree with that. 

The 50-6 loss against the Melbourne Storm is a close second. 

Best player 

Forward Tohu Harris is returning to career-best form, after injury robbed him of game-time last year. 

He has found himself playing in the middle of the field and putting up crazy numbers, including 176 metres and 44 tackles per game. 

Tohu Harris.
Tohu Harris. Photo credit: Photosport

Although the return of Jazz Tevaga might see him return to the edge, Harris has been immense and on track to win the Simon Mannering Medal for Warriors Player of the Year. 

The Warriors' run home 

The Warriors are four points outside the NRL's top eight and if they want a realistic chance of making the playoffs, they would want to win at least seven of their remaining games. 

But things won't be easy - last-placed Canterbury Bulldogs is the only team below them in the standings that the Warriors will face, with six games coming against a team currently inside the top eight. 

Safe to say the Warriors will need a miracle if they want to play finals football. Things haven't been easy and a gruelling schedule, along with a thin squad, will only intensify those challenges.

On the field, the Warriors have been dreadful on attack, averaging just under 13 points per game and conceeding 26 - both stats in the bottom quarter of the NRL. 

The Warriors have improved in aspects since Payten took over, but they have just one win in four games and are still struggling once they get out of the grind. 

After the loss to the Storm, Payten said: "We're a team that needs to have a sniff to kick on with it and if things go against us, we're not tough enough to dig ourselves out of it."

Sadly that happened against the Titans, when a try call went against them, and again last week, when Patrick Herbert dropped the ball over the line. 

The Warriors also need reinforcements for their team. They're allowed to loan troops in, but Payten has expressed frustrations, saying teams are only offering guys who are "untested or fringe players". 

Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a are due to return home after the Warriors' match against the Roosters.
Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a are due to return home after the Warriors' match against the Roosters. Photo credit: Photosport

Off the field, some are still playing for contracts, while the search for a new head coach goes on. Payten, Shaun Wane, Anthony Griffin, and brothers Ben and Shane Walker all seem to be in the mix, but Warriors management is determined to take its time finding the right man. 

All this, along with coronavirus going bonkers in Australia again, isn't helping proceedings.

Even if the Warriors were still based in New Zealand, these circumstances would be challenging for anyone. Being away from their families in another country and a stressful work environment only adds to the problems. 

None of us are in the Warriors enviorment so should reverse judgement about what they've gone through, and are currently experiencing. 

The season is halfway done and even if they manage to crawl over the line and complete all 20 games, what they would have done is far greater than other sports teams around the world. 

Ben Francis: NZ Warriors' mid-winter (of discontent) report card

Round 11 v Roosters (H)
5pm, Saturday, July 25 

NRL position: Fifth 

Head-to-head: Played 41, Warriors 22 wins, Roosters 18 wins, drawn one 

Roosters' 2020 home record: 3-2

Roosters' 2020 away record: 3-2

Last time they met: The Roosters ran in nine tries in a 42-6 win at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The match was overshadowed by a gruesome injury to Gerard Beale. 

Round 12 v Tigers (A)
8pm, Friday July 31 

NRL position: Seventh 

Head-to-head: Played 31, Warriors 14, Tigers 16, drawn one

Tigers' 2020 home record: 2-3

NZ Warriors owner Mark Robinson.
NZ Warriors owner Mark Robinson. Photo credit: Photosport

Tigers' 2020 away record: 3-2

Last time they met: Corey Thompson ran in two tries to help the Tigers claim a 34-6 win. 

Round 13 v Sea Eagles (A)
8pm, Friday, August 7 

NRL position: 10th

Head-to-head: Played 33, Warriors 10, Manly 24

Sea Eagles' 2020 home record: 3-3

Sea Eagles' 2020 away record: 2-2

Last time they met: The Warriors claimed a rare 24-16 win in Auckland to keep their faint 2019 finals hopes alive. 

Round 14 v Panthers (H)

8pm, Friday, August 14 

NRL position: First 

Head-to-head: Played 45, Warriors 18, Panthers 26, drawn one

Panthers' 2020 home record: 5-0-1

Panthers' 2020 away record: 3-1

Last time they met: The Panthers kept the Warriors scoreless earlier this season, with debutant Matt Burton scoring a brace of tries in a 26-0 win. 

Round 15 v Bulldogs (A)

4pm, Sunday, August 23 

NRL position: 16th

Head-to-head: Played 38, Warriors 15, Bulldogs 21, drawn two

Bulldogs' 2020 home record: 1-4

Adam Blair in action against the Dragons.
Adam Blair in action against the Dragons. Photo credit: Getty

Bulldogs' 2020 away record: 0-5

Last time they met: In the opening game of the 2019 season, the Warriors ran away 40-6 winners at Mt Smart Stadium. 

Round 16 v Knights (H)

5pm, Saturday, August 29 

NRL position: Fourth

Head-to-head: Played 42, Warriors 21, Newcastle 20, drawn one

Knights' 2020 home record: 2-2

Knights' 2020 away record: 4-1-1

Last time they met: The Knights held the Warriors scoreless in miserable conditions in the opening game of the 2020 season. 

Round 17 v Eels (H)
6pm, Sunday September 6

NRL position: Second

Head-to-head: Played 40, Warriors 18, Eels 22 

Eels' 2020 home record: 5-0

Eels' 2020 away record: 3-2

Last time they met: In a game riddled with controversy, the Eels snatched a 24-22 win at Bankwest Stadium last season. Days after, the NRL announced several calls went against the Warriors. 

Round 18 v Sharks (A)
8pm, Sunday, September 13 

NRL position: Ninth 

Head-to-head: Played 41, Warriors 17, Sharks 24

Sharks' 2020 home record: 1-3

Warriors players react to their loss to the Cronulla Sharks.
Warriors players react to their loss to the Cronulla Sharks. Photo credit: Getty

Sharks' 2020 away record: 2-4

Last time they met: As mentioned earlier, the Warriors produced their "worst performance of the season" against the Sharks in a 46-10 defeat last week. 

Round 19 v Canberra Raiders (A)
4pm, Sunday, September 20

NRL position: Sixth 

Head-to-head: Played 43, Warriors 20, Raiders 23

Raiders' 2020 home record: 2-3

Raiders' 2020 away record: 4-1

Last time they met: The Warriors were held scoreless in their second game of this season, with the Raiders claiming a 20-0 win on the Gold Coast. 

Round 20 v Sea Eagles (H)
5pm, Sunday, September 27

Ben Francis is a Newshub online sports producer. Join us for live updates of Warriors v Roosters from 5pm Saturday