NRL: Coach Andrew Webster heaps praise on NZ Warriors' new recruits for resurgent start to season

After their best start to an NRL season in years, faith is reaching peak levels among both the NZ Warriors' fanbase and the players themselves.

Sunday's win over Canterbury Bulldogs showcased many of the traits that have been missing in recent seasons, most notably an ability to overcome adversity late and close out wins that previously may have petered out to disappointing results.

Much of the kudos for the team's transformation has been directed towards new head coach Andrew Webster, who has made his mark immediately since taking the reins, after years of success as an assistant coach with Penrith Panthers.

While Webster deflects the credit for the heartening start towards the players and wider staff, he singles out the contribution of the new recruits for special mention.

"The front office are very ambitious," said Webster. "That's the way I felt coming here and that's why I wanted to come here.

"The new players have just come in hungry and just want to win. They haven't come here to get a paycheck, they've come over and want to be successful."

Among the less-heralded newcomers who've impressed since their arrival are forwards Dylan Walker, Mitchell Barnett and Jackson Ford, who have all added significant starch and structure to a pack that looks rejuvenated.

Meanwhile, Kiwis Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Te Maire Martin have returned to NZ shores with a point to prove, and have done so with aplomb.

"You've got some players who are coming home, and they want to do their family and their area proud, and then you've got the players that were here that have said 'I don't want this anymore'," added Webster.

With injuries starting to test squad depth and struggling teams searching for answers, Webster believes the upcoming round of NRL action could provide the ideal litmus test for his side, refusing to be blinded by results.

"This is going to be the biggest game for all clubs this week, where clubs that aren't going well will work it out and the really good teams will get better.

"We've got to find out where we sit in that and I think this is the exact week for it.

"Where we're at now is I've never left each game so happy with the result, and then reviewed the game and gone, 'Wow, we've got so much wrong here'.

"I'm proud of them, but we've got a long way to go."

This weekend, the team travels to Sydney to face Cronulla Sharks, who are fresh off a 40-8 demolition of St George Dragons. In their two meetings last season, the Sharks emerged comprehensive winners over the Warriors.

After their "ugly" win over the Bulldogs, Webster says he wants to see a more clinical all-round effort from his players from the opening to the final whistle, with an emphasis on coming out of the gates stronger, as well as reducing the penalty count.

"Making sure that our game stands up under pressure and we actually play for the full 80 minutes," Webster remarked, on the improvements he's seeking this weekend.

Mitchell Barnett.
Mitchell Barnett. Photo credit: Photosport

"I think we're playing to the finish of the game, but we can start better... set games up more, rather than having to chase all the time, and just get in a rhythm a little bit earlier.

"I want to see more discipline. Our completion rate I think is the highest in the NRL, but the possession rate, we're only at 50 percent for the season, because of our discipline - marching them out of trouble and giving them the ball.

"It's just not good enough".

Whether they have captain Tohu Harris on board against the Sharks is yet to be determined. Named in the starting side, Webster insists their veteran skipper will have every opportunity to prove his fitness and take the field on Sunday, after he was forced off at Mt Smart Stadium with a knee injury.

"He's like a self-doctor, analysing it everyday," joked Webster. "He's a chance of playing.

"We're going to give him right until the end, until later in the week to make that decision. The most experienced players know their body, don't they, and he's saying 'I'm a chance', so we'll just wait and see.

"Tohu makes 60 tackles a game - he could probably do with a couple of reps off this week."

In other injury news, Barnett is "coming along well" in his recovery from a neck injury suffered during the Round Three win over North Queensland Cowboys.

Webster says they'll have a better idea of his status next week, but reiterated - given the nature of the injury - they wouldn't give him the green light until they're completely confident that he's back to 100 percent.

Join Newshub at 6pm Sunday for live updates of the Warriors v Sharks NRL clash