Rugby league: The moment coach Andrew Webster realised NZ Warriors had become genuine NRL title contenders

NZ Warriors won the hearts and minds of thousands around New Zealand and Australia last year, when they won 17 games on the way to a top four finish in the NRL - their best result in over a decade.

Deservedly, coach Andrew Webster was widely lauded - not that he's dwelling on 2023 as he tries to discover the formula to deliver the Warriors the holy grail - a first premiership.

When Andrew Webster took over the Warriors after a disastrous 2022 the only title they seemed likely to challenge for was the wooden spoon.

But early in the 2023 season it became clear they were a side on the rise – specifically during their 26-12 victory in Townsville.  

"I thought round three Cowboys away," Webster said.

"I thought that was when the boys finally really understood what they were doing was going to work and they had faith in it."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Warriors coach Andrew Webster poses after winning the 2023 Coach of the Year during 2023 Dally M Awards at The Winx Stand, Royal Randwick Racecourse on September 27, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Webster was also discovering the faith off the field and in the stands at Mount Smart.

"The crowd after the Newcastle game that was the first time I walked out on the field and they were singing the song," he recalled. 

 "As much as I enjoyed the year, that gave me goosebumps."

And as the wins piled up, new fans jumped on the 'Up the Wahs' Bandwagon, providing a new type of coaching challenge.

"With all the momentum and all the noise, we weren't losing focus," he noted. "It wasn't hard to keep the boys grounded but it was always the challenge."

The Warriors reached heights not seen since 2011 but Webster's still not satisfied.

"Where we started and where we got to was outstanding, but we want more now," he added.

And from now on, success will be defined in titles.

"I'm a bit boring there but I'm probably going to say it for the next 10 years and that's to win the grand final."

And if it doesn't happen in 2024, don't worry Warriors fans - Webster's not leaving anytime soon and he already feels the sides going to be sharper next time around. 

"I love it," he said of life in New Zealand. "My little boy Max, he's a Kiwi. He's got a Kiwi passport and my wife – she's the reason I get to do my job.  

"I'm looking forward to playing here at Mt Smart, I'm looking forward for the crowd getting behind us and I want the players to do them proud again.

"There's lots of little parts of our game that we never nailed, and if we get those little parts right it will have a big impact on big results."