NRL: Warriors want to be top-four team

By Michael Brown

The Warriors aren't afraid to dream big and coach Matt Elliott wants to turn the club into such a dominant power it forces the NRL to establish a second team in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.
The Warriors aren't afraid to dream big and coach Matt Elliott wants to turn the club into such a dominant power it forces the NRL to establish a second team in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.

The Warriors aren't afraid to dream big and coach Matt Elliott wants to turn the club into such a dominant power it forces the NRL to establish a second team in New Zealand.

It matches the kind of ambition vocalised by co-owner Owen Glenn last year when he said he wanted to see the Warriors become the "best single sporting franchise in Australasia''.

They are lofty targets that pique the interest but few will take them seriously until the actions match the words and that means NRL titles. Multiple titles. The Warriors are still searching for their maiden premiership since their creation in 1995 and spent a total of only 24 hours in the top eight this season.

There's still a chance they can sneak into the playoffs this year but it will take a series of results to go their way this weekend, starting with victory over the Dragons in Wollongong on Saturday night.

There is considerable optimism the Warriors will be better next season, given what they have achieved in the second half of this year, but any optimism needs to be greeted with caution because they have rarely met expectations - they were 14th in 2009 a year after falling one game short of the grand final and 14th again in 2012 after playing in the previous grand final.

Elliott appears to have been given a significant war chest to deliver results and also has the support from the owners for his philosophies.

"My long-term goal is that the NRL go, `we need to put another team in New Zealand because this is ridiculous','' he says.

There has been talk about a team in Wellington for the best part of a decade but there's a concern it will dilute the Warriors' competitiveness. This season they proved they can beat the best, with wins over three of the top four sides, but struggled for consistency and tomorrow they are hoping to finish the regular season with a 12-win, 12-loss record.

Expecting Elliott and his players to perform miracles in their first season together was unrealistic but they still should have made the playoffs with the squad they have.

Most will be back again next season. Penrith-bound back-rower Elijah Taylor is the main loss and there is still doubt about Jerome Ropati's playing future.

In return, the Warriors have signed Cronulla second-rower Jayson Bukuya and half Chad Townsend and look to have secured England fullback Sam Tomkins.

"I'm always a fan of keeping a little bit of cash up our sleeves because you tend to get the odd bargain crop up between November and January but the important part of the squad is here,'' Elliott says.

That squad improved significantly during the year but still have areas that need further development.

"The mental side is probably where we have made the most progress but where we still need to make the most progress,'' Elliott says. ``That's not based around frailty, but having standards within the playing group. That's the next leap.''

They also need to start the season well. Too often over the last decade they have been left playing catchup. No side has ever won the NRL title after finishing outside the top four and it will only get more difficult as top-four teams are rewarded under the new finals system.

It's why the fact they are fourth for the second half of the year doesn't sit all that comfortably with captain Simon Mannering.

"When you hear that, it feels good but the frustrating thing is that's been the story of this club for a number of years,'' he says. "I don't know what it is. We would do ourselves a big favour if we won even half the games we lost in the first part of the year. That's what good teams do. You can't just play well in the last 12 rounds of the season, try to scrape in and go all the way.''

Elliott is already plotting how to achieve that and will put a considerable weight on pre-season training. It will be a disrupted time, however, with a number of key players involved in the World Cup.

"We need to raise our standards. The proof of that is what is happening this weekend [with the race for the playoffs]. It's not good enough, with the talent we have here.''

- APNZ

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