Steve Deane: Warriors set to be team of the future with top-line juniors

NZ Warriors centre Krisnan Inu. Photo / Getty Images
NZ Warriors centre Krisnan Inu. Photo / Getty Images

Here's a prediction for you: the Warriors won't win the NRL premiership this season.

Hardly a nuts-on-the-line piece of divination, admittedly. So here's another: the club will win its first title by 2015. Most likely, it will happen in 2014.

We've seen enough of the Warriors this season to know it is time to reset expectations. They aren't a side primed to go one better after coming within a whisper of winning it all last season. They are a team stacked with promising young players who will mainly peak within the next two to four years. Right now, there are just too many babes in the woods - and the big bad wolves of the NRL are gobbling them up.

Tot up the first grade caps of the players who left at the end of the last season - we're talking Lance Hohaia, Joel Moon, Brett Seymour, Shaun Berrigan and Aaron Heremaia mainly - and the figure comes out around the 600 mark.

Factor in the players who began this season injured - Micheal Luck, Jacob Lillyman and Sam Rapira - and the total is over 1000. You simply can't take that much experience out of a squad and expect it to function like nothing has happened. Not when the replacement players are - with the lone exception of Nathan Friend - essentially untested rookies.

Seven of the players added to this year's squad came straight out of the Toyota Cup. Another seven are in just their second NRL season. Plenty more are in their third.

The belief that the promotion of these gifted youngsters would translate into instant NRL success was at best naive, at worst hopelessly optimistic.

The NRL just doesn't work like that. Brisbane are flying this year with a team of brilliant youngsters mainly blooded two seasons ago. Two years ago the Broncos endured their worst campaign in 18 years.

Great things have been expected of the Raiders since a team stacked with brilliant young players won the inaugural Toyota Cup in 2008. The Raiders might finally deliver on that promise this year, but predictions of their pending greatness last year fell horribly flat.

If the Warriors do avoid those types of growing pains, they will be the first club to do so.

I applaud the club's commitment to retaining its best junior talent. The likes of Konrad Hurrell, Shaun Johnson, Glen Fisiiahi, Ben Henry and Elijah Taylor will be world-beaters in a few years' time. Long-term, they offer a hell of a lot more than the players who have been released.

But only a very select few hit the NRL running and never look back. Ben Matulino is a classic case in point. Perhaps the only Warrior whose form has been truly unimpeachable this season, the 22-year-old prop is now a bone fide NRL campaigner. But in his first season he was dropped four times through inconsistency.

The back-to-back Toyota Cup titles of 2010-11 are proof the club's production line is turning out a good chunk of the game's premier emerging talent.

Retaining that talent ahead of capable but limited veterans is not really "an" option - it's the only option. But there is a price to pay, and that price is the sort of performances we have seen in the past two weeks. It is also the forfeiture of any realistic title ambitions this season.

The biggest problem the club faces is one of perception. Last year's grand final run suggested they were further along the path to success than they really are. Had it not been for Krisnan Inu's freakish try against the Tigers, the perception would be vastly different.

Much of the angst over the team's current form is down to last year's grand final run. This is a team of the future more than a team of today. It is being judged by the wrong standard. The level of dissatisfaction and the ferocity of the disappointment among sections of the fanbase at the current state of affairs seems disproportionate.

The bone is being well and truly pointed at a coach who is just six games into his NRL career. Fair enough, but to me the jury is still well and truly out on Brian McClennan. Ivan Cleary had six years in the job, McClennan has barely been here six minutes, and so have many of his players. There is such a thing as a fair go.

How followers of this team deal with their new reality is down to the individual. But watching this young side develop to its potential over the next couple of years should be fun. I plan to enjoy it.

- NZ Herald

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