“This is our year” was a phrase often uttered by New Zealand Warriors fans before the start of each season.
Fans of other clubs and friends and family forced to witness the inevitable disappointment as each season progressed would usually roll their eyes and retort that this line was uttered the year before, and the year before that.
This writer has noticed a recent change in the psyche of even the most ardent of Warriors fans. 2022 seemed to represent a year of hopelessness, a year where a lot of fans felt more disconnected from the club than they’ve ever been before. For the first time, few fans would have pushed back at workmates calling the club a basketcase. It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to state that this year represented somewhat of a loss of innocence for Warriors fans.
2022 saw the Warriors finish with the worse defensive record in the NRL, as try after try was leaked, largely through the outside backs. Things were arguably worse off the field, as fans were forced to witness the train wreck that was the Matt Lodge saga along with game after game under a coach clearly not suited to the team. Club owner Mark Robinson, or “alpha male” as some fans now sarcastically refer to him has an image problem that may never recover amongst the fan base. CEO Cameron George also saw his stocks fall substantially. Fans had simply had enough.
Rumours that the team would play almost all of 2023 back home in New Zealand provided a brief glimmer of hope for the future. Despite many Australian NRL clubs being locked out of their stadiums for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, opposition clubs illustrated yet again their unwavering inability to put self-interest aside and give back to the club who had kept the competition alive during the height of Covid-19. It’s worth pointing out that the Wests Tigers are an exception to this, having moved their round 24 home game to Hamilton in a gesture of thanks.
2022 may well be looked back on as rock bottom for Warriors fans. But alas, let us not dwell on the disastrous year that was. There’s a rumbling of hope and optimism starting to shine through once again, as fans start to build an affinity with rookie coach Andrew Webster. Long suffering fans know that the Warriors have historically performed at their best under coaches who debut at the Warriors, namely Daniel Anderson and Ivan Cleary.
“From my observations, I’d say there is a change in the atmosphere. Not to compare the two coaches (Webster and Brown) but Webster brings a machine of knowledge, premiership wins and a philosophy/ system that could possibly work with the Warriors”, popular Warriors YouTuber Hold the Ball recently told Everything Rugby League.
“Collectively, there is a sense of optimism and hope from the fans…we’ve been here before with coach changes but let’s hope for a better outcome next year. I believe the fans believe that the Warriors will perform better this year, that’s for sure”.
There are no fans claiming “this is our year”, which represents a sanguine mentality without veering into naivety. Ultimately, fans want to see heart. They want to see every single player putting their body on the line and bleeding for the jersey they’ve worshipped all these years. Few fans expect the club to be challenging for the top four, with most even resigned to the team missing the top eight. This is okay though, as there’s a feeling that the club is heading in the right direction.
To the credit of the club, head office has realised that juniors need to be competing with young Australian kids throughout their development years so will field an under-19s team in the SG-Ball competition in 2023. In addition to this, a reserve grade team will be fielded in the NSW Cup. These teams will be joined by the return of an NRLW side in 2025.
"For where I am in my career I want to bring experience" Mitch Barnett https://t.co/ZBARaS73f4
— One NZ Warriors (@NZWarriors) December 22, 2022
The NRL side still has a few roster spots open in its top 30, with fans expecting at least one prop to be signed early in the New Year. Media personality and journalist Phil “Buzz” Rothfield published a gossip piece asking “which kiwi test forward is in top-secret talks about quitting his NRL club to join the Warriors?” This, combined with rumours about a possible return of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have fans starting to imagine the what-ifs and who the clubs next signings will be.
It’s not going to happen overnight but there is cause for optimism. With a new name, eight new signings, playing and living at home, and a new coach, 2023 represents a new era for the New Zealand Warriors after the hardest few years in the clubs’ history. Who knows, maybe it won’t be long before you hear your Warriors mate utter those famous words “this is our year” and utter to yourself “you said that last year”.