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Season review: Warriors

Andrew McFadden (pic) will be sacked as Warriors coach and replaced by Stephen Kearney, reports say.
Andrew McFadden (pic) will be sacked as Warriors coach and replaced by Stephen Kearney, reports say.
Photo Source: AAP

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Ah, the Warriors. The club that can't get its act together was once again tipped to make the finals and once again failed to get there. New recruits and former premiership winners Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck were expected to provide the team with the quality to make the push, but the latter in particular had a rough start to the season before suffering an ACL injury.

As their season spiralled out of control New Zealand had to deal with a drugs scandal, with six players stood down. Club great Manu Vatuvei sat out four games as a result, and his 225-game NRL career might now be over despite having some years to run on his contract. Konrad Hurrell's colourful time in New Zealand came to an end when he was released at the end of May.

Andrew McFadden lasted the season as coach before being replaced for 2017 by Stephen Kearney, though McFadden has decided to stick around as the former Kiwis coach's assistant.

Six games that shaped the Warriors' season
Round 7: Warriors d Bulldogs 24-20
New Zealand sat 13th on the ladder after winning just two of their first six games of the year, and they received a timely boost with this Canterbury 'home game' played in front of 18,212 fans at Wellington's Westpac Stadium. Solomone Kata was denied two tries in the first 20 minutes – the first because of a forward pass and the second when he dropped the ball as he was tackled over the line – but the Warriors did cross twice more, though Shaun Johnson missed both conversions. The big story out of the first quarter of the game was Tuivasa-Sheck's knee injury. The fullback felt a twist in the ninth minute and stayed down to have his knee strapped. As he carried the ball in the 16th minute he felt more pain, hobbling off and sitting out the rest of the game. Scans later showed a ruptured ACL, and New Zealand were criticised for their handling of the injury. Despite being a man down the Warriors scored three tries to one in the second half to set up the win.

Round 8: Storm d Warriors 42-0
In one of the quirks of the NRL draw, New Zealand travelled to Melbourne for their Anzac Day clash only 36 days after they played each other in Auckland. The Storm won 21-14 that day but it would be nowhere near as close at AAMI Park. Tuimoala Lolohea replaced Tuivasa-Sheck in the No.1 jumper but he suffered his own knee injury in the first half, forcing David Fusitua to fill in at the back. (Lolohea would miss only one week.) The Warriors were showing nothing in defence early, down 10-0 after just nine minutes, and any hopes of a comeback were all but extinguished when Blake Ayshford was sent to the bin in the 15th minute. Melbourne scored two tries while New Zealand were down to 12 men before adding four more in the remaining 50 minutes of play. In the days after this game six players – Vatuvei, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete and Hurrell – were stood down as it emerged they had been out until 3am one night, and it was later revealed five of the six had mixed sleeping pills and energy drinks. Hurrell was the designated driver, though by this point he had already played his last game for the club and would soon be released from his contract.

Round 16: Sharks d Warriors 19-18
New Zealand had won their past three games when they travelled to Cronulla to take on the ladder leaders, who were on their own 10-game winning streak. The Warriors got the jump on the home side when they scored two tries in six minutes midway through the first half, but the Sharks would then hold them scoreless for half an hour while scoring 18 points of their own. New Zealand levelled things up through a try to Thomas Leuluai and two goals (one conversion, one penalty) to Luke, but neither side could break the tie in the final five minutes. It took until the 87th minute of the game but it was Cronulla who got the golden point, James Maloney converting a field goal to leave the Warriors one win outside the top eight.

Round 20: Raiders d Warriors 26-22
McFadden's side picked up a win over Gold Coast in round 17 to finally finish a round inside the eight, and they remained there even after going down to the Sea Eagles in golden point in round 19. Canberra had won six of their last seven games, and New Zealand found out why they were being talked up as premiership contenders when the team from Australia's capital led 22-4 with just over 10 minutes remaining. The Warriors, though, didn't die wondering. Leuluai broke through to score in the 70th minute and the 73rd and Luke converted both to reduce the Raiders' lead to six points. It looked like their comeback would be stopped there, but somehow Fusitua touched down in the right corner with 70 seconds on the clock. Luke swung in a superb conversion under pressure to take the Warriors into a third golden-point game in four rounds. Unfortunately, though, it took just over a minute for Canberra to put the pressure on and cross for the winning try.

Round 21: Warriors d Panthers 20-16
The team returned home for an important clash with Penrith, who sat eighth on the ladder and were one game ahead of New Zealand. Although the Panthers opened the scoring through a penalty goal, it was the Warriors who took the first significant lead as Fusitua and Ken Maumalo scored tries for a 10-2 half-time lead. New Zealand had the better of the play early in the second half but could only score one try, which wasn't converted. The door was open and Penrith capitalised, with Josh Mansour bursting through twice in eight minutes. In a lucky break for the home side, the Panthers missed both conversions and the score remained 16-all going into golden point – the Warriors' third in a row and fourth in their last five. Unlike the previous three, however, New Zealand came up trumps through some Johnson magic. Evoking memories of his match-winning try against England at the 2013 World Cup, the elusive halfback weaved his way through a number of defenders to secure the win and lift the Warriors into eighth spot.

Round 23: Rabbitohs d Warriors 41-22
On top of the win over Penrith, New Zealand defeated another finals-chasing outfit in the Titans in round 22 and were firmly in the middle of the fight for seventh and eighth. South Sydney had lost their last nine games, though after getting whacked 54-4 by Canberra in round 21, the Rabbitohs had showed a bit more pluck in taking Melbourne to golden point in round 22. Kata opened the scoring with a try in the seventh minute, but the contest was soon dominated by South Sydney and specifically Adam Reynolds. The Warriors let in five tries before half-time to trail 31-6 at the break, three four-pointers coming after Reynolds kicks. The Warriors remained only one point out of eighth spot after this loss, but in an indication of just how damaging it was to their confidence, they lost the remaining three games of the season by a combined 62 points.

Can Kearney take NZ to the finals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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