NRL: NZ Warriors acknowledge weight of expectation to continue winning ways into 2024

NZ Warriors acknowledge the weight of expectation now on their shoulders, as the club prepares to continue its reversal of fortunes into 2024.  

After a historic-low season in 2022, new coach Andrew Webster completely turned the Warriors' fortunes around last year, leading them within one game of the NRL Grand Final.  

Right across Aotearoa, cries of 'Up the Wahs' were heard, as New Zealand fell in love with rugby league again, but getting to the top and staying there are two completely different things.

Mt Smart will be rocking again in 2024.
Mt Smart will be rocking again in 2024. Photo credit: Photosport

Despite reaching the preliminary final, the Warriors still have plenty to improve on, if they're to reach the heights of three-time defending champions Penrith Panthers.  

The class of 2023 weren't the first Warriors side to win over the public - the teams of 2002 and 2011 went one further with Grand Final defeats.  

Now back among the title contenders, chief executive Cameron George concedes pressure from supporters to pick up where they left off in 2023 is the perfect fuel to push them into the new season.  

"Across the organisation, we understand there's a level of expectation there, but this is what we want, this is where we want to be," George told AM. "Successful clubs in the past have had to live with it.  

"We train for this, we prepare for this. Now we have to go out and execute with the expectation that our fans want us to win.

"We want to win, it's quite an exciting time. For a few years now, we've had to work out ways we're going to win and win back our fans, but we've got them now.   

"Now we have to retain them by being the best we can be."  

Helping them is the return of two of the club's favourite sons, back at Mt Smart after time away.

Former captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has re-signed, after a stint in rugby union with the Blues and All Blacks. Half Chanel Harris-Tavita has returned from the wilderness, after taking a year out of the game altogether.  

While many clubs struggle to field a team of international-quality players, the Warriors may now have too many.  

Asked where the two will fit in - given the incredible stocks the backline already possesses - George is keeping his cards close to his chest.   

"You'll see it unfold amongst the trial games over the next month," he added. "The impact they've had on the squad and the club has been huge.  

"That's why we were excited to have them back at our footy club. Both of them are very professional, they raise the standards, they expect high outcomes in everything they do.  

"They've had a really positive impact on the club. We're all very hungry this year to back it up and be better."  

Elsewhere, another new addition is also a huge boon for the Warriors.  

After being part of the Brisbane Broncos side that finished second in last season's competition, back-rower Kurt Capewell has also penned a three-year contract at Mt Smart. Capewell arrives at the Warriors as an experienced pro, even if he's now into his 30s.  

A personal relationship with Webster was key in bringing him across the Tasman, after the pair worked together at Penrith, but George sees Capewell's role extending beyond just onfield play.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Stacey Jones at Warriors pre-season training.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Stacey Jones at Warriors pre-season training. Photo credit: Photosport

As the Warriors plan for the years to come, Capewell can be a mentor for the likes of Demetric Sifakula, Jacob Laban and Zyon Maiu'u, as young forwards the club can build its future around.  

"We're going through a bit of a transition period," said George. "We've got a lot of kids coming through our system now.  

"We want to be a development club. Mixing them with experience and winning players like Kurt Capewell... he knows what is expected.  

"He's going to be great for the young kids coming through, as well as the NRL team."