NRL Round 1 predicted teams: After a stellar 2023, can the Warriors hit the heights again with Roger on board?
As part of a series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2024, it’s time to see if the Warriors can back it up for a second year running.
The Warriors and expectation do not go together well. The Warriors and consistency, too, have not always been happy bedfellows.
After a year in which they became everyone’s second favourite team, that reputation will be top of the list of things that coach Andrew Webster, approaching the difficult second season, will be looking to fix.
Expectations were zero last time out and, obviously, a top four spot and a finals win massively exceeded them. Now, with some big name signings and a nation of engaged fans watching on, it’ll be totally different.
Consistency might be a little easier, because despite the incomings being relatively high-profile, there haven’t been too many of them and, realistically, the team should be much the same year on year.
Webster put culture into the Wahs in 2023, both off-the-field through their ability to engage with the wider public, but also through a distinct and innovative playstyle that seemed perfectly designed to beat up bad teams and challenge good ones.
For 80m of the field, the Warriors could be a little dull – pretty bash and barge – but it made them very difficult to beat and ensured they stayed in a lot of games.
Then, in good ball, they were a perpetual motion machine, using decoys and supports to create space for Shaun Johnson to do his best work and for Dallin Watene-Zeleniak and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to ruthlessly attack the corners, especially on the right edge.
Now, the challenge will be to move the style forwards, integrate the new players and keep the standards high now that every other team has had a good, long look at what they were doing.
It’s a challenge, but if the Wahs are up to it, there’s no reason why they can’t be consistent and meet expectations, however lofty.
Three new bodies arrive, and they all bring clear improvements to the best 17.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a superstar and returns from rugby union both as a talismanic figure for the sport in New Zealand and as potential game breaker to take the Wahs to the next level.
Talent like his doesn’t become available very often and if he gets to anywhere near the form he had before leaving, then it’ll be a huge signing for the club.
Less heralded but equally impressive is the return to the sport of Chanel Harris-Tavita, a real Swiss Army knife of a player, who won’t walk into the first 13 but adds experience and depth to multiple positions.
Lastly, Kurt Capewell crosses the ditch as a pure culture signing. He was the weak link in last year’s Broncos, but has won a Premiership, played Origin and seen it all. He’s a winner and will add a lot to this Warriors team off the field and, they hope, on it too.
Josh Curran has been hugely influential in this Warriors side over the past few years, but with a real pile up of backrowers, the club has happy to let him return to Australia with the Bulldogs.
Bayley Sironen is away to the Super League with the Catalans, but, as mentioned, the Wahs have backrowers coming out of their ears anyway.
Viliami Vailea and Ronald Volkman have also left, to the Cowboys and Dragosn respectively, but barely featured in 2023. Brayden Wiliame has retired.
Addin Fonua-Blake is also set for the Sharks, but that isn’t until 2025.
Key spots to unlock?
Much as the Warriors have a defined style, there’s still a fair bit of work to be done to patch up where guys have left and to work out how to plug in the new guys.
Both RTS and CHT are guys who were sufficiently good to be signed, but come into the team with strong candidates already in their position.
Charnze at fullback was so good last year that Roger will be repurposed as a centre to get him into the 13, but that in turn leaves one of Adam Pompey and Rocco Berry shunted out, perhaps unfairly. Webster would call it depth, of course.
Which of last year’s centres drops out might depend on the side of the field that Tuivasa-Sheck occupies – we have Berry staying in, but it realistically could be either.
Chanel is an excellent option in several positions and would be perfect in the 14 role, but Dylan Walker has a mortgage there and provides a mix of both utility and spark from the bench.
Webster might wonder if, with CHT’s ability to play at 9, be mightn’t be able to use him there and repurpose Walker into a pure backrow option.
Last year, Fonua-Blake and Bunty Afoa started the bulk of games with Tohu Harris at 13 and Tom Ale off the bench, with no other pure middles.
Now they have Capewell in the backrow along with Niukore, who can play lock, and Walker, plus Jackson Ford and Mitch Barnett, it might be possible to keep that mobility through the middle and make a rotation out of the other guys.
Webster will see his preponderance of options as a good thing – we’ve not even mentioned Jazz Tevaga and youngsters Demetric Sifakula, Kalani Going and Zyon Maiu’u, who are also options.
It’s certainly easy to see why they were so happy to let Josh Curran go, because this is stacked pack. If Webby leans further into the small ball style that worked so well last year, he’ll have plenty of bodies to do it.
Round 1 predicted team
1 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
2 Marcelo Montoya
3 Roger Tuisvasa-Sheck
4 Rocco Berry
5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
6 Luke Metcalf
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Addin Fonua-Blake
9 Wayde Egan
10 Bunty Afoa
11 Kurt Capewell
12 Marata Niukore
13 Tohu Harris
14 Chanel Harris-Tavita
15 Jackson Ford
16 Dylan Walker
17 Tom Ale
Other squad members: Adam Pompey, Jazz Tevaga, Ali Leiataua, Demetric Sifakula, Edward Kosi, Freddy Lussick, Jacob Laban, Te Maire Martin, Mitch Barnett, Zyon Maiu’u, Taine Tuaupiki
Development players: Ben Farr, Etuate Fukofuka, Patrick Moimoi, Sanele Aukusitino, Selimiela Halasima, Tanner Stowers-Smith