3 Mar 2017

Warriors - winning or woeful in 2017?

7:39 am on 3 March 2017
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney (left) is demanding a much improved effort from his charges ahead of two NRL trial games.

Warriors coach Stephen Kearney is stamping his mark on the club Photo: Photosport

Last year was another bitter disappointment for the New Zealand Warriors in the National Rugby League, just like their previous 21 seasons.

It's been five years since the Warriors last made the playoffs but there does appear to be hope at the club after two big off-season signings among their playing and coaching roster.

He won't be wearing the Warriors' playing jersey again but Stephen Kearney has returned to Mt Smart Stadium after almost 20 years in the hope of finally winning the Auckland-based club's first NRL premiership title.

Kearney has taken over as head coach from Andrew McFadden, who failed to reach the playoffs once in the three seasons he was in charge.

Kearney's record as an international coach is impressive, winning the the world cup in 2008 as well as the Four Nations Trophy in 2014.

But as a NRL head coach, he has a worse winning record than McFadden, winning only 24 percent of his games when in charge of the Parramatta Eels in 2012.

The 44-year-old is a man of few words but has made no secret that he expects nothing but the best out of his team, week in and week out.

"For me, the important part is preparation. It's about making sure we prepare well to perform well on Sunday so for me, that's the focus," Kearney said.

Kearney has the backing of his former Warriors coach in the 1990's - Frank Endacott, who said having a New Zealand coach at the helm is the right move for the club.

Endacott blames the Warriors' failure to win a NRL title in 22 years of trying is inconsistency.

"They always come up with that magic performance that could beat the top team in the competition and then play two or three poor games in a row.

"If they get that consistency this year I think the Warriors are in for a good year. I look at the squad on paper, they're as good as any in the competition, so let's hope," Endacott said.

Kieran Foran.

Warriors new recruit, Kieran Foran Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The other off-season signing that has dominated the Warriors pre-season headlines has been controversial Kiwis playmaker - Kieran Foran.

The 26-year-old joined the club in September last year on a one-year-deal after walking out on the Parramatta Eels just two months into a three year contract.

Foran's life unravelled after his Parramatta walkout, his relationship with his partner broke down and he attempted to take his own life.

His contract with the Warriors was registered by the NRL only last month and he won't be allowed to play until at least week four, once he's completed one final psychiatric assessment.

The Warriors are adamant Foran's the silver bullet to finally provide the club a Premiership title and Endacott agreed.

"He will give the backline that stability so that they can compliment each other and I think that's a halves combination as good as any around.

"If they can click together from day one I think they're a big factor in being there at the end," Endacott said.

Warriors' halfback Shaun Johnson speaking to media at Mount Smart Staduim, 11 May 2016.

Warriors playmaker, Shaun Johnson Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

If Foran is finally cleared to play, he'll join his Kiwis partner, Shaun Johnson, to form what will be one of the best backlines in rugby league.

Johnson said he's itching to get back on the field with Foran.

He also believes it's time the Warriors show their fans what they're truly made of.

"We just want to walk off the field knowing ourselves and our families proud so in turn that means we've probably done the members proud.

"We want to be a club that everyone's proud of, we've had a few tough years but we're working hard, that's not going to change so that's all we can do and looking forward to getting into it."

Fifteen other teams are vying for the title, with the ever-consistent Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos expected to be among the top contenders.

One thing experts here and across the Tasman agree on is 2017 promises to be one of the most competitive years in NRL history.

The Warriors first game of the new National Rugby League season is against the Newcastle Knights at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.