Written by Keith Whitelock
As the dust settles on another disappointing season from the New Zealand Warriors, the usual post season analysis has yielded a theme of déjà vu for the club’s fans. Whilst a degree of goodwill around the team living away from home still exists, it certainly isn’t as strong as it once was.
With captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck defecting to rugby union, the club is now faced with a glaring lack of leadership. This is evidenced by the fact that no one can be sure who the team’s 2022 captain will be. Obvious choice Tohu Harris is rumoured to be out until as late as May 2022, with concussion concerns in a similar vein to medically retired Roosters player Boyd Cordner. Stand in captain Adin Fonua-Blake and prodigal son Shaun Johnson have now become the two leading candidates; two players whose captaincy credentials are largely unknown.
Rugby league is a sport with more moving parts than most. The introduction of a second Brisbane team is a plot that just adds to the story. There’s no doubt the relocation of the game to Queensland due to Covid-19 outbreaks has delayed a decision on which (if any) of the three bids will be granted the green light. What is apparent is that the longer the decision is delayed, the more likely 2024 will be the first season fans get to see a 17 team competition.
A shoutout to the staff who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes for the club.
Not just in Australia but also back home, the work this small group puts in often doesn’t get enough credit. Over the past two years they’ve performed admirably under trying circumstances.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) September 11, 2021
All three bids have one thing in common; their preference for super coach Wayne Bennett to be their inaugural leader. “I may be employed in coaching still (in 2022)…If there is a new franchise they will be looking to buy players and have things to set up” Bennett told News Ltd back in April this year, when a decision on the new team was expected a lot sooner.
Bennett has made the decision to return to Brisbane for family reasons but has emphatically ruled out a return to the Brisbane Broncos. When asked about this possibility, Bennett stated “No, I’ve moved on and that is where it is at… and that is where it can stay as far as I’m concerned” before going on the say “there’s no doubt I’m going back to Brisbane (to live).” With 2024 likely the first year we see a new team in the NRL, this leaves Bennett largely a free agent next year.
With a return to the Broncos ruled out, there is only two other clubs that are located relatively locally to Bennett when he returns to Brisbane; the Gold Coast Titans (about an hour’s drive) and the previously nomadic New Zealand Warriors, who have recently confirmed they will be based in Redcliffe in 2022.
The Gold Coast Titans already have Mal Meninga employed as their high-performance senior advisor so are highly unlikely to have any new recruits for a position like this however the New Zealand Warriors have no such figure. Phil Gould could have played this role however he is now employed as the Canterbury Bulldogs Manager of Football.
Bennett’s relationship with Warriors Head Coach Nathan Brown is rocky to say the least, after a very public stoush centered around the state Bennett left his old club Newcastle in. This frosty relationship would need to be repaired before any steps forward could be taken.
The Warriors could do a lot worse than approach Bennett for a one year gig as Coaching Director or Head of Football type role whilst they’re based in Redcliffe. Similar to the roles that saw Bennett help the New Zealand Kiwis win the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
On the field, the club could do worse than signing Kiwi great Benji Marshall. This signing would come with minimal risk given his relatively small pay packet. It would also tick a lot of boxes, including the glaring lack of leadership amongst the playing ranks along with a perceived lack of depth in the halves.
Marshall is yet to make the decision of whether or not to play on in 2022 but has publically stated that he won’t be going out on a limb to try and find a new club for 2022 but rather will let clubs come to him if they’re interested. Danny Weidler has today reported in Fairfax media that current club South Sydney Rabbitohs have left some money aside to cater for Marshall to play on in 2022 and have been impressed by Marshall’s influence not just on the field but off it, imparting his knowledge onto the clubs young halves and even the teams old heads. This is exactly the kind of influence the Warriors are in desperate need of.
The time for excuses is largely over for the Warriors. A team with talent such as Reece Walsh, Adin Fonua-Blake, Shaun Johnson, Josh Curran, Matt Lodge and Tohu Harris should make the top 8 as a very low pass mark next year. Bringing leaders like Benji Marshall and Wayne Bennett into the fold even for one year could be the missing ingredient. 2022 is the only year this will be possible.