The Warriors will be pushing for a place in the finals again.
The Warriors will be pushing for a place in the finals again.

Warriors 2019 roster: What you need to know

THE Warriors defied a lot of expectations in 2018 to make the finals for the first time in an age but can they do it all again next season?

With a star-studded roster and plenty of expectations it remains to be seen just what we'll get from New Zealand in 2019.

Full squad: Bunty Afoa, Leeson Ah Mau, Blake Ayshford, Gerard Beale, Adam Blair, David Fusitu'a, James Gavet, Blake Green, Tohu Harris, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Peta Hiku, Shaun Johnson, Solomone Kata, Karl Lawton, Sam Lisone, Issac Luke, Ken Maumalo, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Agnatius Paasi, Isaiah Papali'i, Hayze Perham, Leivaha Pulu, Nathaniel Roache, Liligiifo Sao, Tevita Satae, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Ins: Leeson Ah Mau (St George Illawarra), Adam Keighran (Penrith Panthers)

Outs: Anthony Gelling (Widnes), Simon Mannering (retired), Mason Lino (Newcastle Knights)

Best XVII: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. David Fusitu'a 3. Peta Hiku 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Blake Green 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Issac Luke 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Isaiah Papali'i 12. Tohu Harris 13. Adam Blair 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Nathaniel Roache 16. Bunty Afoa 17. Leivaha Pulu

Forwards

New Zealand went away from the giants of years past and instead went for mobility and workrate in 2018. Next season promises to be more of the same.

Agnatius Paasi was superb last season while Bunty Afoa was one of the competition's most improved players and Leeson Ah Mau is coming off the best year of his career, as is Jazz Tevaga.

The loss of James Gavet is a blow, but there are several candidates to replace him including Sam Lisone and Tevita Satae.

The club's backrow is one of their real strengths - Isaiah Papali'i is a prospect of rare quality, Tohu Harris might be the most complete backrower in the sport and Adam Blair defied expectations to form a crucial part of the club's semi-final push.

Ah Mau is New Zealand’s only major recruit. AAP Image/Craig Golding.
Ah Mau is New Zealand’s only major recruit. AAP Image/Craig Golding.

Backs

What New Zealand may lack in terms of out and out metre-eaters in the middle they make up for out wide.

Ken Maumalo, Solomone Kata, Peta Hiku and David Fusitu'a give the club a mix of power and speed across the board - all except Hiku experienced the best seasons of their careers last season, especially Maumalo, whose improvement was quite remarkable. He went from borderline unplayable to a winger with a top-tier workrate who finally seemed to realise he's the size of a house. Between him and Kata, who still has the odd defensive lapse but makes up for it, there's not much they can't run over.

Fusitu'a ended the season as the competition's leading tryscorer and is the best finisher in the competition. If he gets a shot at the line it's just about over. Hiku, while not as flashy as the other three, is the steady hand they need. His offloading and quick hands created many a Fusitu'a try this season and he should start ahead of Gerard Beale.

The Warriors lean heavily on their back five. AAP Image/David Rowland.
The Warriors lean heavily on their back five. AAP Image/David Rowland.

Spine

You can make the case the Warriors spine has the highest ceiling of any playmaking combination in the NRL.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Blake Green, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke compliment each other well while also offering unique attacking threats across the park.

Various injury problems mean the quartet didn't string many games together in 2018 but the club still managed to make the finals.

If they fire on all cylinders and stay on the field they could take the Warriors to some serious heights.

An unexpected wrinkle could be Johnson's free-agency. It remains to be seen how serious the Warriors are about moving on their marquee man but it could spur Johnson to new heights as he tries to earn a new deal.

Keep an eye out for Nathaniel Roache - the Warriors were prepared to let Issac Luke walk away such is their confidence in the Junior Kiwi. He'll likely come off the bench in 2019.

Johnson remains the beating heart of the Warriors. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.
Johnson remains the beating heart of the Warriors. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.

Recruitment strength

Ah Mau is the only signing who will slot into the top side straight away and it's a good purchase. The veteran prop has always been solid but exploded into some of the best form of his career in 2018, forming a key part of the Dragons fearsome middle rotation.

You know exactly what you're going to get with Ah Mau and it's almost always what you need.

Where they're lacking

Power in the middle. When was the last time the Warriors didn't have enough big forwards? Has it ever happened before? New Zealand are short of tough, capable operators but the loss of the powerful Gavet does rob them of a little strength up the guts.

Ah Mau, Blair and Afoa are all fine players but none have the powerful running of Gavet. It seems Agnatius Paasi will have to carry an even greater share of the yardage than he did this season unless Kearney can get more consistent football out of Sam Lisone, Tevita Satae or Ligi Sao.

The lack of out and out metre-eating forwards is mitigated somewhat by the Warriors possessing quite possibly the best yardage backline in the competition.

News Corp Australia


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