NRL: NZ Warriors vow to be more resilient in 2023 as new era under Andrew Webster dawns

NZ Warriors vow to be a more resilient side this year, as they prepare to kick off the new NRL season against Newcastle Knights on Friday. 

With the rigours of a gruelling pre-season behind them, it's almost time to put their efforts to the test.

The end of last season was another painful one for the side and their fans, as they finished with the worst defensive record in the competition, and lost by 20 points or more on eight occasions throughout the campaign, prompting claims they were "mentally weak", with their attitude questioned

But the slate has been wiped clean and the class of 2023 promise to show more resolve this time around. 

"I didn't look at the group and go, 'Boys, you're not resilient'," said new coach Andrew Webster. "I looked at the group and said, 'Boys, we want to be the best in the NRL'. 

"This is what we're going to have to be, because it's what the best sides are."

The incoming boss has made a point of making players uncomfortable at various points of the pre-season. 

"Let's work really hard at it, let's put ourselves in those situations, so when it happens in a game, we can draw on our training," he said. "Every team's going to have a moment where they have a lack of resilience or something doesn't go their way, it's how quickly you can fix that."

Last year, it often wasn't fixed. Stinging defeats to Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys stick out, but the squad have worked hard to ensure that's not repeated this year. 

NZ Warriors coach Andrew Webster.
NZ Warriors coach Andrew Webster. Photo credit: Photosport

An emphasis on ball work, sessions in the community - including an 'Amazing Race' around Auckland - have punctuated the summer months, as well as war-gaming adverse situations. 

"A few times last year, we got teams into an arm wrestle and we'd be the first ones to fold," conceded prop Addin Fonua-Blake. 

"Webby [Webster] came in and addressed that with the squad. We just want to take that real fighting mentality into the game - when our backs are against the wall, just keep fighting. 

"A few times last year, we just rolled over. This pre-season, Webby's chucked us in a few situations that we're not comfortable with and our theme has been getting comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

"Looking back at last season, it wasn't pretty, but our only right of reply now is our round one performance."

Veteran halfback Shaun Johnson is champing at the bit to dive into his 13th NRL campaign and has relished more footy-focused sessions this year. 

"One thing I have noticed, probably this pre-season far more than last pre-season, is the footy content we've got through," said Johnson.

NZ Warriors winger Marcelo Montoya against Wests Tigers.
NZ Warriors winger Marcelo Montoya against Wests Tigers. Photo credit: Photosport

"We were doing specific ball work before Christmas, which was something we didn't do last year, so we're building those connections far earlier. 

"I think our clarity and understanding around our roles within the team is far more advanced than what it was this time last year. 

"That's probably the one thing - we're far more connected and understand our style of play." 

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