NRL 2022: NZ Warriors out to make statement in season-opener against Newcastle Knights

It may only be round one, but NZ Warriors are taking a "win at all costs" mentality into their season opener against Newcastle in Wellington on Friday, as they seek to usher in a new era. 

The club is desperate to reconnect with their fans throughout the country following their COVID-19-enforced exodus, and admit victory to kickstart the season is the only option. 

Fans at Thursday's open training session at Sky Stadium were simply happy to have their team home. 

"It's exciting for everyone and the club to be back in New Zealand, and get to play a home game down here, but to see the turnout today it's unbelievable," winger Marcelo Montoya told Newshub.  

"It's crazy getting to see all the support here, especially the kids, great to see them out and about," newcomer and former Newcastle Knights Mitch Barnett added.

This year marks the permanent return of the club, and even though they won't return to their spiritual home of Mt Smart Stadium until the Bulldogs visit in round four, there's a good feeling around the club regardless. 

Warriors rookie Demitric Sifakula in action during the pre-season.
Warriors rookie Demitric Sifakula in action during the pre-season. Photo credit: Photosport

"To be back home in our four walls and with staff and players that want to be here, it really instills a sense of belief and confidence in the playing group," chief executive Cameron George said.

"We never got any of this in Australia. We were just the team that had to move there, there, there, there just to keep the competition going. 

"We're really appreciating this and the players are getting something out of it, which is really good." 

Although it was all sunshine and smiles in the capital, the team realise only victories will prevent this new era becoming yet another false dawn for the club.

"Start well, win. It's our only option," George says bluntly. 

"That's our message and our expectation. We have to win tomorrow because we want to put our foot down and say we own NZ soil. 

"They're coming into our territory and we've got to own it. It is a win at all costs tomorrow for our fans." 

New assistant coach Richard Agar is relishing the chance to be a part of the club's homecoming campaign. 

"It was one of the really appealing factors of coming to New Zealand was being part of this reset and journey forward," Agar says. 

"So far we've had games in Auckland, Christchurch and now Wellington. We've been received sensationally by the local people and we're hoping for another crowd tomorrow night. 

"It's a really exciting period for us." 

The Englishman admits they'll be channeling that desire to make a statement on Friday.

"As you saw last year when the team arrived back home, the difference that that home crowd makes. 

"But also being around the guys and listening to some of their personal stories, (now) being back with their families and being back with the comforts of Auckland and in particular New Zealand, I think it's a real positive for us." 

With six new signings set to debut on Friday, the excitement of returning home also comes with the need for some patience, adds Agar.

"Looking at our trial form (against Melbourne Storm) we thought it was really noticeable that we were a new team playing against a team that had had stability in the ranks for a long time. 

"We understand that we're going to need to get those combinations going quickly. We're confident we've got the quality of player but also some depth in there."

Join Newshub for live updates of NZ Warriors v Newcastle Knights from 8pm Friday, or watch it live and free-to-air on THREE