Written by Joshua Dean
For 26 years now, the New Zealand Warriors have played in the NRL, entertaining fans around the world. Even though they haven’t won a premiership yet, fans still keep the faith, believing one day the team can finally break the drought.
There have been iconic Warriors teams that almost did it, the 2002 Minor Premiership winning side that couldn’t beat the Fittler-led Roosters, as well as the 2011 underdog team that almost did the unthinkable. The club has had some great players and coaches, who have created great moments.
Let have a look at their best ever side…
1. ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK – 108 Appearances
The club’s first and only Dally M Medalist. Although RTS has been part of the present losing era of the club, he has been one of the league’s best players, being a consistent and brilliant player throughout his time at the club.
2. FRANCIS MELI – 110 Appearances
Meli created many try-scoring records throughout his time at the Warriors. His 23 tries in the 2003 NRL Season is still a club record for the club, as well as his five tries against the Bulldogs in the finals series in that same season.
3. CLINTON TOOPI – 129 Appearances
Toopi was part of one of the club’s great periods, from 1999-2006. He scored 57 tries in his 129 Appearances for the Warriors. Strong, skillful and a pleasure to watch.
4. JEROME ROPATI – 145 Appearances
Jerome is a 10 year player of the club. However, due to many injuries, he only played 145 times for the Warriors. His partnership with Manu Vatuvei was one of the great centre and wing partnerships in the NRL during the late 2000s.
‘The Beast’ will forever be my favourite player of all time. I grew up watching the Warriors in the peak of Manu’s powers, where the Warriors would base their attack around him, putting up bombs for him to snatch up and score in the corner. He was too big and too strong, scoring 152 NRL tries, making him the all-time try-scorer at the club.
6. SHAUN JOHNSON – 162 Appearances
Throughout his time at the Warriors, ‘Magic Johnson’ was hot and cold. One game he was a superstar, killing teams with his trademark stepping and jaw-dropping plays. However, the next he would be terrible, kicking balls dead. He won the Golden Boot in 2014 and won the Warriors many games, in a period where losing was the norm.
7. STACEY JONES – 261 Appearances
For many people, Stacey Jones is the best Warriors player ever. He was captain and best player of the Minor Premiership and Grant Finalist 2002 side and his try in that 2002 grand final, is Warriors folklore. ‘The Little General’ will forever be known as one of the Warriors greats, due to his skill and determination to win a premiership for the club.
The Little General with the two try assists for the two big men in the 26-22 home win over the Roosters back in 2000 💙❤️💚
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) April 16, 2020
8. RUBEN WIKI – 87 Appearances
Even though Wiki only played 87 games for the club, he had many highlights. He was an integral part of the 2008 Warriors team that beat the first placed Storm in the finals, becoming the first ever eighth placed team to win in the first round of the finals. Wiki was the first New Zealander to play 300 NRL games while at the Warriors. His power and drive, alongside Steve Price, kept the Warriors alive in the mid 2000s.
9. ISAAC LUKE – 83 Appearances
The Hooker position has arguably been the most cursed position for the Warriors. There hasn’t been a long-term starting hooker for a period longer than five seasons. Many have come and gone and haven’t made an impact. Isaac Luke only played 83 games for the club, however always gave his all and had some incredible moments, in a time when the team couldn’t win. He was inconsistent, however his dummy half runs gave the Warriors much needed metres.
10. STEVE PRICE – 91 Appearances
Steve Price will go down as one of the Warriors greatest signings. His experience and professionalism gave the Warriors players a massive boost when he signed in 2004, just after winning a title with the Bulldogs. He was one of the best Captains of the Warriors, winning Dally M Captain and Prop of the Year in 2007.
11. ALI LAUITIITI – 115 Appearances
Lauitiiti was a sensation for the Warriors in the golden era from 1998-2003 and was an integral part of their 2002 NRL season, when he was named Second Rower of the Year. His razzle dazzle style of play was a trademark of the Harlem Globetrotter type Warriors. Lauitiiti was released from his contract in 2003 and it is known as one of the worst mistakes in the Warriors history.
12. SIMON MANNERING (Captain) – 301 Appearances
Simon Mannering is the Ultimate Warrior. His tireless work ethic and motor kept the Warriors afloat in many games and seasons throughout his career. He is the club’s only 300 game player and captained the 2011 Grand Final side. In a team where defence was always a weakness, Mannering made 9,610 tackles in his career, which is around 32 tackles a game. This is an incredible feat and cements Mannering as one of the Warrior’s greatest players of all time.
Luck was a workhorse alongside Mannering. In a game against the Melbourne Storm in 2009, Luck made a record breaking 74 tackles. He played 150 games for the Warriors and only scored 7 tries, however that wasn’t his role. Luck was a tireless player who would do anything to get the team over the line.
14. LANCE HOHAIA – 185 Appearances
Lance Hohaia is one of the most underrated Rugby League players ever. He was the perfect utility. He played everywhere for the Warriors, including Fullback, Centre, Five-Eighth, Half Back and Hooker. Hohaia played in both the 2002 and the 2011 Grand Finals. He is the only Warriors player to do this.
15. BEN MATULINO – 212 Appearances
Matulino was a shining light in the 2010s for the Warriors. His big hits at Mt Smart were iconic throughout his playing time. He is the first player from NYC to have played 150 NRL Matches. His size and power is something that the current Warriors size misses to this day.
16. AWEN GUTTENBEIL – 170 Appearances
Guttenbeil was a major component in the 2002 Grand Final team. He is one of the longest serving players of the club, playing 11 seasons, from 1996 to 2006. For his first few seasons he struggled to make the grade due to injuries, but in 2001 he had an injury-free season, then in 2002 he had a breakout year, scoring six tries. He is well-known for his big hit in 2007 against the Sydney Roosters, where he flattened Ned Catic. Good serviceman for the club.
17. KEVIN CAMPION – 44 Appearances
Campion only played at the club for two seasons, however his impact and significance was immense. He was a winner, who was only the fifth player ever to have played in a grand final for three different clubs. His professionalism and leadership inspired the Warriors in the 2002 NRL Season, where they made the Grand Final.
COACH: IVAN CLEARY – 137 Games Coached, 68 Wins, 49% Win Rate
Ivan Cleary is the longest-serving coach of the Warriors, as well as the coach that has the most wins. He led the club to the 2011 Grand Final and many Warriors fans still question why Cleary was allowed to leave after 2011. In his six seasons coaching the Warriors, they made the finals four times, which is an incredible feat.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Logan Swann, Jerry Seuseu, James Maloney, Brent Tate, Stephen Kearney, PJ Marsh, David Fusitua