Chris Rattue: The end-of-season New Zealand Warriors awards

The Warriors are out of the NRL’s top eight playoff hunt, with one round to go. That means it’s time to leap in with some awards and brick bats.

Player of the Year

Not a lot of candidates, in fact, there’s only one for my money – prop Addin Fonua-Blake.

He’s up with the best in the NRL, the only Warrior you could say that about in 2021. Fonua-Blake is among the best recruits in the club’s rocky history, and his elevation to captaincy mid-season is a sign the Warriors will move mountains to keep this man mountain. The redoubtable Tohu Harris was as good as ever before injury struck.

Toughest Question

Is coach Nathan Brown the man for the job?

On one hand, and despite another season of horrible results, the Warriors showed a lot of spirit. On the other hand, their energy was often misplaced.

But there have been so many owners, chief executives, captains, players and coaches (a staggering 13 in 27 seasons, including seven in the last 10) that these never-ending changes have to come to an end. Brown, in concert with recruiter Peter O’Sullivan, needs to be given a lengthy chance.

Biggest Mystery

David Fusitua, one of the highest-paid players at the club, simply disappeared somewhere along the line, and even the subject seemed to be off limits. What is this – rugby union?

Super signing(s)

Reece Walsh is the best signing the Warriors have ever made. Luring him away from Brisbane was a masterstroke. If he stays and reaches his potential, the brilliant teenager can change the course of Warriors history. Matt Lodge was a very good get.

Biggest concern

Reece Walsh. The magic dried up as the year went on. Opponents were on to him. It seems as though he will be the target of constant transfer rumours, a distraction for both Walsh and the team. The pressure is on coach Brown to unlock the genius.

Surprise hit

Forward Josh Curran. He won’t die wondering. Curran has a great attitude, runs tough lines – just the sort of hard nut the Warriors need. There had been promising glimpses of Curran but he well and truly exceeded expectations in 2021.

Biggest embarrassment

Discarded Warriors forward Isaiah Papali’i’s stunning form for Parramatta.

So you let Papali’i go, and got the likes of Jack Murchie and Kane Evans in? Huh?

The Warriors should have known what the homegrown Papali’i was capable of and brought it out of him.

Sadly, it’s an iconic Warriors story, representing a quarter century of mismanagement.

Most memorable performance (1)

Take your pick from some of Reece Walsh’s early games. His long range try against the Cowboys, fending off an amazing chase from young forward Heilum Luki, was a season highlight.

Most memorable performance (2)

Kane Evans is hard to miss, as the NRL’s tallest forward.

He already had people scratching their heads after writing an expletive on a wrist band early in the season. But Evans was only warming up.

Against the Sharks, he was put on report three times and sin-binned twice. His offences included some old-style punching, after getting riled up by serial Sharks dickhead Will Chambers.

Memorable doesn’t always mean good.

Biggest shock (1)

I can’t believe they re-signed Shaun Johnson, especially after all the palaver the club went through moving him on.

Then again, Manchester United have re-signed the 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, which sounds like a crazy adrenaline rush.

On his day, Johnson was brilliant to watch and a match winner. But he had too many off days, off moments, and became THE problem.

It was time to build a new club.

Not only was he as inconsistent as ever at the Sharks, but injuries look like becoming an increasing problem.

Yes, he’ll give the Warriors some much-needed identity, and maybe profile.

But it’s a stupid signing.

Biggest shock (2)

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck quitting camp during the season to kick-start his rugby career. I know there were legitimate reasons put forward, but it was his stellar reputation of a great professional who stuck it out at a wobbly club, and the country’s All Blacks obsession, which spared RTS any scrutiny over this.

Or to put it another way – would Simon Mannering have scarpered like that?

A captain doesn’t leave the ship – it was very disappointing.

But apart from that, RTS was one of the great Warriors.

If some sort of ‘All-Time Greatest’ vote was held right now, I think he’d make the top three with Stacey Jones and Mannering.

Jones would be my No 1, and Mannering second. For now, RTS drops right down my list because of that mid-season departure. Hopefully time will heal the wound.

Biggest Non-Shock

Sydney league heavyweight Phil Gould joined the Warriors last year, promising a life dedicated to turning the Auckland club into giants. Okay, there were reasons why he quit early this year, joining rival club Canterbury. But I knew Gould wouldn’t last at the Warriors, and he didn’t.

Best performance

Seriously, nothing really stands out as ground-breaking. It was another year of ifs, buts and maybes.

Worst loss

Getting pipped in the last seconds against the Sea Eagles, who were still battlers awaiting Tom Trbojevic’s return at that point. A victory in that early season game would have given the Warriors a jump on the other mid-table contenders.

Most overrated

Ben Murdoch-Masila has his moments, but not enough of them. A more energetic Big Ben would be very interesting though.

Lamb to the slaughter

Naive wing Ed Kosi got dumped in the deep end.

Surprise slider

Jack Murchie. I thought the forward was set to make an impact. He didn’t.

Jury Out

Too many players to mention.

Most touching moment

Ken Maumalo’s tearful farewell mid-season, as he headed to the Tigers. The big wing had slipped from his best standards, but at his best he was a beast and a homegrown Warriors through and through. His disappointing form at the Tigers justified the decision though.

Saddest decision

Allowing Peta Hiku to go. He’s the sort of creative footballer I love to watch, with a unique touch, and a local product as well. Players like (my own personal favourite) Jazz Tevaga and Hiku give the Warriors an identity. It’s very sad to see Hiku go, again.

Special mention

CEO Cameron George – keeping the club afloat across the ditch during pandemic times must be a minefield. The club has done a fantastic job, and while ultimately it has been a disappointing season, there is serious promise in that 2022 squad.

Statistic of the Year

The Warriors will end the year with just one victory over a top eight club. That’s the real story of 2021 (and many seasons previously). Whether they had scraped into the top eight or not, the Warriors are nowhere near good enough. Hurling a load of promising signings together does not a club make. Over to you Nathan Brown.

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